Praise for Sean Cawelti’s Puppets in the Pasadena Playhouse Production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS

‘Little Shop of Horrors’ in Pasadena: Secrets of a radically reconceived Audrey II

“Strange.” “Weird.” “Exotic little beauty.” “Like something from another world.”

These are ways in which the plant of “Little Shop of Horrors” is initially described by its characters. They’re perplexed by its presence, its mysterious origins, its unidentifiable genus. But the botanical fascination is so enticing that it boosts the business of a skid row flower shop — and convinces its caretaker to commit a bit of murder in exchange for fame and fortune.

Countless stagings of the Howard Ashman-Alan Menken musical have remained visually devout to the sprout that debuted off-off-Broadway in 1982. Based on the 1960 Roger Corman cult classic and popularized by Frank Oz’s 1986 musical film, the Faustian fable has been mounted again and again with a green, podlike growth resembling a Venus flytrap and a bountiful head of lettuce.

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The 1986 film starred Rick Moranis opposite a pod-like creature, often re-created onstage.
(Warner Bros. / Shutterstock)

“The classic look can be nostalgic but also predictable,” said Mike Donahue, who directed the Pasadena Playhouse production set to close Sunday. “All of the language that’s in the piece is about how the plant stands out, how it catches people’s eyes immediately when people are walking by. There’s gotta be something about it that, in this drab and depressed and bleak world, just pops.” Advertisement

The Playhouse questioned those optical expectations and answered with a radical redesign of the plant, Audrey II, nicknamed Twoey. Housed in a large tomato can, its flower is a fantastic fuchsia hue, the five appendage-like tendrils glistening and sparkling. When closed, a bud of polka dot petals resembles a head with lips. It opens into a lily with a playful yellow tongue. This Twoey is indeed a new sight for those onstage and in the audience, and now that the run is ending, her secrets are being revealed in new photos presented exclusively here.

“I wanted to make something that seems alien and extraterrestrial but also that gives an emotional reaction — you can’t help but smile,” said Sean Cawelti, who led the show’s puppet design, direction and choreography. “And when the plant opens its petals for the first time and reveals what’s inside, it’s not inherently scary but surprisingly whimsical and magical.”

Twoey (also known as Audrey II), the carnivorous plant in “Little Shop of Horrors.”
With a new look and strategic puppetry, Twoey comes off as friendly and adorable to Seymour and the audience.
(Courtesy of Pasadena Playhouse)

Fear is the furthest thing from anyone’s mind during the song “Grow for Me.” A first version of Twoey — which “faints” via remote control — is swiftly swapped for a rod puppet plant with hard-to-spot cables controlled by three puppeteers under a metal table.

Read the full review by Ashley Lee from the LA Times here.

THE LAST WIDE OPEN by Audrey Cefaly Opened at the Vermont Stage

Theater Review: A Hollywood Screwball Comedy for Today

Charlotte Munson is Lina and Jordan Gullikson, Roberto, in the Vermont Stage production of “The Last Wide Open.”

BURLINGTON – Two misfits – the waitress Lina and the Italian immigrant busboy Roberto – have been working together seemingly forever in the same Italian restaurant. Although they have seldom spoken, there is an undeniable attraction. They have three opportunities to figure it out, each at a different time in their lives. Will they?

Vermont Stage opened a charming production of the oddball romantic comedy “The Last Wide Open” this week at the Main Street Landing Black Box Theatre. Thursday’s performance enjoyed its fine cast of two reverting to the screwball comedies of 1930s and ‘40s Hollywood – with a decidedly contemporary twist.

This is only the second production of this play with music. With book and lyrics by Audrey Cefaly and music by Matthew M. Nielson, the comedy premiered in January at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, where Vermont Stage Company founder Blake Robison has been artistic director since 2012.

The play’s unique structure is alluded to in the play’s complete title. “The Last Wide Open: A Love Song in Three Movements” is told in three segments, separated by folk-style songs: in the first, Roberto has been in the restaurant and the country for five years, and he and Lina, finding themselves alone in the dining room one, talk for the first time; in the second, Roberto has just come to the U.S. and barely speaks English, yet he and Lina find a way to communicate; and, in the final, some 10 years later, finds both married – unhappily – meeting together unexpectedly.

Lina wants to be a nurse and is marrying Todd, though she has very little good to say about him. Roberto isn’t having such good luck with his girlfriend Anna in Italy either. Of course, they figure it out – but oh what fun along the way.

Directed by Jamien Forrest, Vermont Stage’s general manager, Charlotte Munson and Jordan Gullikson are well cast as Lina and Roberto, and seemed to have great fun in this gentle battle of the sexes. Although Munson hid any vulnerability to the very end, she proved a witty and feisty Gina. (She also was quite a fine singer.)

Gullikson presented a more dimensional and sympathetic Roberto, from meek to tender to angry to loving, but always irresistible. Most importantly, their interaction was natural, convincing and very funny.

Vermont Stage has benefited greatly from its move to the Burlington Waterfront, with much fewer limitations than FlynnSpace, its longtime home. Designer Jeff Modereger took advantage of the malleable space to create an attractive and decidedly Italian restaurant interior (and exterior), dramatically lit by Joe Cabrera. Rébecca Lafon devised the novel quick-change costumes, and Dylan Friedman’s sound design underscored the stage activity including some particularly dramatic moments.

Vermont Stage’s “The Last Wide Open” is a happy return to screwball romantic comedies of yesteryear.

Read the full article by Jim Lowe from the Times Argus here.

Review: ‘Gertrude and Claudius @ Barrington Stage, 7/21/19

Elijah Alexander and Kate MacCluggage as the title characters in “Gertrude and Claudius” at Barrington Stage Company. (BSC publicity photo by Daniel Rader.)

The most theatrically engaging and emotionally complete production I’ve seen so far this summer, “Gertrude and Claudius” combines the brawn of a medieval history play with the intelligence of a contemporary revenge drama.

Commissioned by the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, where it had its world premiere last year, “Gertrude and Claudius” is receiving a rousing production at Barrington Stage Company, with which its author, Mark St. Germain, has a long artistic association. (The company’s smaller stage was named after him seven years ago.)

Essentially a prequel to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” that explores the origins of the relationship between the title characters – the mother and stepfather of the moody Danish prince – “Gertrude and Claudius” was adapted by St. Germain from John Updike’s best-selling 2000 novel of the same name. According to Updike’s son David, a writer who happened to be sitting in the same row as me at Sunday’s opening performance, St. Germain was chosen by Updike’s estate from among multiple proposals to adapt the book for the stage.

St. Germain succeeds brilliantly, crafting language that synthesizes the formality and eloquence of Shakespeare with a modern, accessible vernacular. At one point, a character says, “I got away with it!,” an exclamation rather more contemporary than anything from pre-Renaissance Denmark or Elizabethan England but which sounds perfectly right here, in a production directed by the finesse and acuity we’ve come to expect from BSC’s artistic director, Julianne Boyd.

Covering about 30 years, “Gertrude and Claudius” begins with the arranged marriage of Gertrude to Hamlet’s father, King Amleth. It continues over the decades while the king, a generally caring and considerate husband distracted by affairs of state, misses the affair of the heart between his wife and his world-traveling brother, Claudius. The unfulfilled lovers see one another occasionally, building their bond primarily through letters, until Gertrude asserts her royal prerogative and essentially orders Claudius to return, starting them toward regicide and the beginning of the story in “Hamlet.”

Performed on a handsome, imposing set of high castle walls, designed by Lee Savage and lit to perfection by David Lander, with gorgeous costumes by Sara Jean Tosetti, BSC’s “Gertrude and Claudius” has an outstanding title pair in Kate MacCluggage and Elijah Alexander. Both acutely aware of the constraints of the era and the weight of their respective places in the royal family, they nonetheless build a deeply affecting connection. Claudius wanders the globe because the only thing harder than being away from Gertrude would be to see her daily; she is a proper, strong queen, wife and mother, but, her mind often far away, she also comes to consider Elsinore as much prison as castle, haunting its hallways as her husband’s ghost will after his murder.

With an excellent Douglas Rees as Amleth, guilty of little more than neglect on the domestic front, Berkshires veteran Rocco Sisto as the chattering royal adviser Polonius, reliable and comedic Mary Stout as Gertrude’s matronly handmaiden and Nick LaMedica as vital though largely silent Hamlet, the production moves toward its inevitable end. Though the conclusion is foregone, the journey there is not, and some of its stops offer surprise and insight. The best of them is a scene that closes the first act, when Claudius introduces Gertrude to his trained falcons. (The puppetry is by Brandon Hardy, who also worked on BSC’s season-opening “Into the woods.”)

Rich in metaphor and emotion, the falcon scene ends with a moment of theatrical magic that it would be unfair to reveal further. St. Germain is said to have been pacing at the back of the balcony, agonizing that the essential moment would work as intended. It does. Gertrude and Claudius together make an irrevocable choice, forever altering lives and history.

Review by Steve Barnes from the Times Union. Link to the full article can be found here.

THE HELLO GIRLS Nominated for 4 Outer Critics Circle Awards this Season !

Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical
The Beast in the Jungle
Black Light
Girl from the North Country
The Hello Girls
Midnight at the Never Get

Outstanding Book Of A Musical (Broadway or Off-Broadway)
Robert Horn, Tootsie
Conor McPherson, Girl from the North Country
Peter Mills and Cara Reichel, The Hello Girls
Anaïs Mitchell, Hadestown
Jeff Whitty and James Magruder, Head Over Heels

Outstanding New Score (Broadway or Off-Broadway)
Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, The Prom
Joe Iconis, Be More Chill
Peter Mills, The Hello Girls
Anaïs Mitchell, Hadestown
David Yazbek, Tootsie

Outstanding Director Of A Musical
Rachel Chavkin, Hadestown
Scott Ellis, Tootsie
Daniel Fish, Oklahoma!
Joel Grey, Fiddler on the Roof (in Yiddish)
Cara Reichel, The Hello Girls

Read the full list from Playbill.com here.

Jay-Z and Kanye set the tone in premiere of ‘Les Deux Noirs’ at Mosaic Theater


James J. Johnson, left, as Richard Wright, and Jeremy Hunter as James Baldwin in Psalmayene 24’s “Les Deux Noirs: Notes on Notes of a Native Son,” at Mosaic Theater Company. (Stan Barouh)

The Richard Wright-James Baldwin showdown “Les Deux Noirs” briefly becomes “Les Quatre” in the frisky, flippant new show at Mosaic Theater. Wright takes on a Jay-Z persona and Baldwin is Kanye West as the Jay-Z/Kanye West song “Niggas in Paris” gets the music video treatment, complete with choreography and projections. No telling where playwright Psalmayene 24 might swerve after that irreverent, heady start to his 70-minute power play between mid-20th-century titans of black American culture.

You can’t say Psalmayene 24 is jumping on the hip-hop bandwagon of “Hamilton”; he’s been doing this for at least 20 years, since he performed his “The Hip-Hop Nightmares of Jujube Brown” at Arena Stage. The new drama’s full title is “Les Deux Noirs: Notes on Notes of a Native Son,” and it’s based on a 1953 meeting in Paris between Wright and Baldwin. The beef was the upstart Baldwin’s critique of Wright’s 1940 novel, “Native Son,” a groundbreaking book that’s still troubling in its representation of Bigger Thomas’s violent reaction to an oppressive society.


The show is a fantasia that isn’t entirely sure of itself yet. Sexuality rears its head — Baldwin was gay, Wright married two white women — and in that complicated key, RJ Pavel and Musa Gurnis are terrific as the solicitous maitre d’ and waitress (both white) with creamy French accents and lusty eyes. The chats and the action never feel remote — lessons on the n-word, a great joke about reparations — even if the show is still seeking the thread that will pull it all tight.

Les Deux Noirs: Notes on Notes of a Native Son, by Psalmayene 24. Directed by Raymond O. Caldwell. Set, Ethan Sinnott; lights, William K. D’Eugenio; costumes, Amy MacDonald; projections, Brandi Martin; sound, Nick Hernandez; choreography, Tiffany Quinn. About 70 minutes. Through April 27 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. $20-$65. 202-399-7993. mosaictheater.org.

Read the full review by Nelson Pressley of the Washington Post here.