Exclusive: The plant tells all

As StageWorks Fresno opens a three-week run of ‘Little Shop of Horrors,’ we ‘interview’ the veteran actor who plays Audrey II, with an assist from Logan Cooley and Will Bishop


She’s a big girl, this strange and interesting plant, when you see her in person. Or do you say he’s a big boy? Think about it: The famous alien life form in “Little Shop of Horrors” has a male voice but is named Audrey II. When it comes to plants, there’s no need to get so gender specific.

One thing is certain, however: There’s no harder working actor in Hollywood today than the beloved Leaf Erickson (a stage name given to her years ago by an uninspired agent, but it stuck), the only singing and dancing extraterrestrial life form known on the planet.

What a coup: The Munro Review snags an interview with Leaf Erickson (Ms. Leaf for short), the only one of his/her kind in the world. Photo / StageWorks Fresno

Ms. Leaf has been in every single production of “Little Shop of Horrors” since the show began, which means the veteran actor spends a lot of time on the road. At the moment she’s starring in the StageWorks Fresno production of the classic musical, which opens Friday, Oct. 6.

Ms. Leaf (her requested way of being addressed) has a reputation for being a little cranky, which you’d expect considering how hard she works and long she’s been performing. To my surprise, she agreed to a sit-down interview. To preserve her voice, she asked the two local cast members who “assist” her onstage — Will Bishop, who helps in the vocal department, and Logan Cooley, who offers full-body-puppetry expertise — to speak for her in the royal “we.” Our wide-ranging discussion included life on the road, favorite foods, the character of Audrey II, and even, ahem, Ms. Leaf’s sex life. Here are excerpts:

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Now exploding at a City College near you

‘Green Day’s American Idiot’ makes its local premiere in a hard-charging Fresno production


A decade or so ago, if you’d had the chance to peek into the childhood room of 11-year-old Marcus Cardenas, you would have seen something very important to him on the wall:

A poster for the Green Day album “American Idiot.”

Not that the young Marcus really understood all the lyrics in Green Day’s passionate and political songs. He was still pretty young. But he listened ravenously to such oft-played tunes as “Holiday” and “September.”

Three friends: Marcus Cardenas, left, Josh Taber and Dylan Hardcastle star in the new production of “Green Day’s American Idiot.” Photo / Fresno City College

Besides, kids can still pick up on the emotionality of so-called “adult” lyrics, even ones such as Cardenas, whose parents tried to shield him from the images of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that were streaming into living rooms across the country via the nightly news. When Green Day, in “Holiday,” sings, “Sieg Heil to the president gasman, Bombs away is your punishment,” it’s pretty clear that it’s no love song for George W. Bush, who was in office at the time.

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Biegel returns to play with Sequoia Symphony

Jeffrey Biegel, who couldn’t hear or speak until corrective surgery at age 3, will play Grieg’s piano concerto. It will be his 2nd performance with the symphony in 2017

The Sequoia Symphony Orchestra, which recently changed its name from the Tulare County Symphony after 57 years, kicks off its 2017-18 season with a familiar guest artist.

Pianist Jeffrey Biegel played with the Visalia-based orchestra in February, performing a piece by Claude Bolling.

A fan of Grieg: pianist Jeffrey Biegel.

Now the New York-based Biegel is returning on Saturday, Oct. 7, to play Grieg’s famed Piano Concerto in a Masterworks concert titled “Gods and Heroes.”

“It went so well, that I got a call for an immediate re-engagement,” Biegel says of his February gig.

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5 picks for October ArtHop

Ginny Burdick’s A Sense of Place gallery hosts a national pastel show. Also: Check out exhibitions at Fig Tree Gallery, Spectrum Art Gallery, Jeffrey Scott Gallery and Gallery 25

Coarsegold artist Ginny Burdick is a pretty happy gallery owner these days. A Sense of Place, her handsomely renovated gallery — right across from Fresno High School — is now in its fifth successful year.

She nabbed a prestigious exhibition to show off that space: the national invitational of the Pastel Society of the West Coast, the second largest association of pastelists in the world. And to top things off, one of her own pieces was selected for the show by jurors. (“It would have been embarrassing if I hadn’t gotten in,” she says with a laugh.)

It’s no wonder, then, that Burdick’s gallery leads my picks this month for ArtHop, the monthly open house of studios and galleries in the Tower District and downtown neighborhoods of Fresno. (Most venues are open 5-8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5.) The show includes entries from all over the world in a variety of subjects, including landscapes, portraits and abstracts. I dropped by this week to ask some questions and get a quick video tour.

Q: How did you persuade the pastel society to pick Fresno for its show?

A: Three years ago I was approached by the then president of the Pastel Society of the West Coast who was trying to find a venue for the show in central California. He lives near Porterville and felt it was important to have this area represented. He had tried for the Fresno Art Museum but they never contacted him back. Then he reached out to me, came to see the gallery and felt it would work for the show.

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A bloody but sterile ‘Particle’

Fresno State production of Sam Shepard’s final play, ‘A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations)’ is ambitious and bewildering


Sam Shepard’s “A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations),” his final work, is something of a bewildering experience. The play is best appreciated, I think, by two groups: stalwart fans of the playwright; and people who are very familiar with the classic Greek tale of Oedipus, which Shepard intertwines with a modern-day retelling of the narrative. By the conclusion, the old and new versions have tangled into a strange and nearly incomprehensible knot.

Seeing red: Steven Lee Weatherbee plays Oedipus and Otto in Sam Shepard’s “A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations).” Photo / Fresno State

The new Fresno State production, which continues through Saturday, Oct. 7, is stylistically ambitious and earnestly presented. It’s also a nice dedication to Shepard (known for such classics as “Buried Child,” for which he won a Pulitzer, and “True West”), who died just a few months ago. But the production also can feel sterile and fussy, as if it’s daring the audience to keep up with its intellectual games.

There’s a lot to unpack in the premise. Oedipus — whom the playwright Sophocles immortalized — is the baby famously prophesied to one day kill his father and marry his mother. Such a horrific human tragedy would seem to be a calamity we can safely relegate to ancient times, you’d think. We’re much too “civilized” today to entertain such possibilities.

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Share in my video debut

My new monthly talk show gets its big premiere tonight, thanks to CMAC. You’ll be able to access it on demand

There might not be a red carpet tonight, but let’s cue up the rotating spotlights downtown anyway:

The talk-show version of The Munro Review premieres at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 4, on CMAC 1 (U-verse 99 and Xfinity 93).

A monthly talk show, you say, complete with “Tonight Show”-style desk and comfy chairs for the guests? You bet.

It premieres on CMAC 1 (U-verse 99 and Xfinity 93), and it will rerun throughout the month of October. You’ll also be able to watch the show on demand at cmac.tv and on CMAC’s YouTube channel. Plus — because we believe in lots of options — you can watch it right here on this very post.

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Win tickets to StageWorks Fresno’s ‘Little Shop’

UPDATE: Congrats to our two winners, Alina Gonzalez and Anjali Davis. Enjoy!

ORIGINAL POST: StageWorks Fresno closes its 2017 season with a show that could eat the entire Fresno Art Museum: the much-loved “Little Shop of Horrors.” This quirky classic musical about a man-eating plant from outer space opens Friday, Oct. 6, at the museum’s Bonner Auditorium.


The Munro Review is giving away two pairs of seats for any opening weekend performance. You can choose from 7:30 p.m. Friday (opening night) or 7:30 p.m. Saturday, or 2 p.m. Sunday.

Here’s how you enter: Leave a comment on this post answering this question: On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you hate going to the dentist? (1 being you positively adore the experience, and 10 being you’d rather let your teeth rot away than sit down in that chair.) Or, if you’d prefer not to discuss your dental issues, tell us why you’d like to see the show.

I’ll pick two winners at random. You’ll be able to pick up your tickets at Will Call. Deadline to enter is midnight Wednesday, Oct. 4. I’ll get back to the winners the next morning.

To subscribe to the email newsletter for The Munro Review, go to this link:


Happy trails

A beautiful Sunday traveling Sierra Art Trails was a chance to meet more than a dozen talented artists

Sunday’s Sierra Art Trails had it all: great weather, a Fresno River that actually had water in it, outstanding brownies (thank you, teenage son of Lisa Anderson and Martin Shapiro), friendly patrons, a nice Coarsegold lunch spot (another thank you, Wild Fig Kitchen), and even a substitute landscape photographer (Franka Gabler had to catch a plane to Italy, so a friend held down the fort at her studio).

Plus, of course, welcoming artists at every stop.

I stuck to the southern part of the Trails this year, starting at Yosemite Lakes Park and making it to the outskirts of Oakhurst. I only wish I could have visited even more artists. But there’s always next year! Here’s my pictorial journey.

With Carolyn Hartling in Yosemite Lakes Park. My friend Barbara bought the beautiful painting right above us.

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