StageWorks Fresno’s production of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ gives us a memorable Audrey, and her namesake chews up the scenery to perfection
The plant steals the show in StageWorks Fresno’s chipper “Little Shop of Horrors,” which is as it should be. Carnivorous leafy life forms are a rarity in the musical theater canon, especially ones that sing and dance, and the plant is a big part of why this much-loved musical has become a community-theater staple. I envy neophyte audience members to this show who get to experience that voice — and those moves — for the first time.
It actually takes two actors to make Audrey II, as the mysterious plant is known, do its thing in the Fresno Art Museum’s Bonner Auditorium. Will Bishop, who voices the plant, is terrific. He brings a wry edge and an excellent singing voice to the role, paying homage both to its Motown roots while still finding his own contemporary take. And Logan Cooley, as the “body,” is spot-on in terms of the plant’s movements, connecting with and adding to Bishop’s artistic interpretation.
With a stellar production design and pumped-up ensemble, ‘Green Day’s American Idiot’ is a stomping good time
Fresno City College’s incendiary production of “Green Day’s American Idiot” opens with the cast singing a raucous version of the title song. The number unfolds with thrashing choreography on a grunge-punk-industrial set pulsing with video projections and drenched in moody lighting. Near the end, one of the show’s pivotal characters, Johnny (Josh Taber), takes a flying leap and lands on a bare mattress in the middle of the stage.
It’s a sliver of a moment in a show filled with visual and aural excess, but it caught my eye.
Why? Because it’s so playful.
Sure, there is grit and angst aplenty in this punk-rock tale of generational disaffection. How could there not be? Its characters fight for a chance to make a difference in a country that is embroiled in two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan), mired in economic inequality, and pandered and sold to by a relentless corporate media. Not to mention the murky torrent of alcohol and drug abuse that washes through the show like a raging river.
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.
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:
‘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.”
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.
Here are five things to know about the production:
This show is exposing lots of children to the theater bug. There are 39 kids in the Savannah Cast and 41 in the Grassland Cast, making 74 total (six of them are in both casts.). The three biggest roles are the characters of Rafiki, played by Vega Ankrum (Savannah Cast) and Mia Carino (Grassland Cast); Scar, played by Jake Corson (Savannah Cast) and Jeremy Marks (Grassland Cast); and Simba, played by Nathan Gettman (Savannah and Grassland casts).
Selma Arts Center’s local premiere of “Carrie: The Musical” bristles with menace and power, but some aspects of the production are fumbled
The Selma Arts Center production of “Carrie: The Musical” can feel volatile and unsettled, like the charged air in an electrical storm. In many ways that’s a good thing. When your narrative is dominated by a mercilessly teased girl whose nascent telekinetic powers are sparked by rage, the last thing you want is a production that comes across as tidy and restrained.
A big part of this dynamic is Abigail Halpern, the 16-year-old Buchanan High School student who plays Carrie White. Her voice is wonderfully strong and rattling in its intensity, but it can also be less than fully controlled. From the moment Halpern belts out her first long, sustained solo note, I felt I was in the presence of someone who doesn’t realize her own power, which seems perfect for the role.
The show’s direction and creative design also demonstrate many of the same unsettled tendencies. Unfortunately, this isn’t as positive a quality. At the opening night performance I attended, some of the basics were fumbled: sloppy and far too lengthy transitions between scenes; inopportune choices in lighting design; a few awkwardly blocked scenes; some clunky moments in which characters seem directionless.
In the Selma Arts Center local premiere of “Carrie,” a 1970s horror tale tackles contemporary themes of fitting in and bullying
Chris Hargensen is the bad girl in “Carrie: The Musical.” The character is the evil string-puller in her high school, the alpha-female ringleader who manipulates her fellow students into participating in the most infamous prom-night stunt in horror history. Early on, in the song “The World According to Chris,” she belts out her eat-or-be-eaten philosophy of life:
Guess what, ever since the world began Same plot, everyone’s been dumping on their fellow man Pounding people they feel better than
Imani Branch, 18, who plays Chris in the new Selma Arts Center production of “Carrie,” which opens Friday in a central San Joaquin Valley premiere, was taken aback the first time she truly soaked up the cruel machinations and hurtful things said and sung by her character.
StageWorks Fresno offers a robust and meaningful production of the steelworker-stripping comedy
In one of the best numbers in StageWorks Fresno’s rousing new production of “The Full Monty,” the six out-of-work (and, in varying degrees, out-of-shape) steelworkers at the center of the musical are finding it hard to get inspired for the Chippendales-style strip show they’ve agreed to put on for their friends, family, and the greater Buffalo., N.Y., area.
What gets them in sync and rhythm?
The mention of Michael Jordan.
Yes, that Michael Jordan. The famed basketball player is immortalized in the first-act finale. Coming in this late 1990s musical, at first it seems a stuffy and dated reference. As the actors on opening night whipped themselves into a wonderful choreographic frenzy in the song “Michael Jordan’s Ball,” inspired by the sports star’s effortless moves on the court, I found myself pondering: If this sweet and funny show endures for, say, 40 years, will audiences in the future be only vaguely aware of Jordan’s legacy, the same way kids today nod politely when their elders talk about such sports heroes as Babe Ruth?