Fil-Am playwright, director Jeffrey Lo directs TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s ‘Little Shop of Horrors’

Filipino American playwright and director Jeffrey Lo brings the TheatreWorks Silicon Valley production of “Little Shop of Horrors” into a different location and time frame – modern-day San Francisco’s Chinatown. The musical play runs through December 24 at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto. Photo by Tasi Alabastro

JEFFREY Lo, a Filipino American playwright and director, helms TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s presentation of “Little Shop of Horrors,” which is showing until December 24 at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto.

“Little Shop of Horrors,” which was originally a 1960 film by Roger Corman, has been adapted a few times to the silver screen (the 1986 movie of the same title directed by Frank Oz starring comedians Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, James Belushi, John Candy and Bill Murray) and musical stage (starting with the 1982 off-Broadway musical collaborated on by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman).

This iteration of the much-beloved musical sees Lo bring “Little Shop of Horrors” to a new environment and time frame – specifically, modern-day San Francisco’s Chinatown district. Mostly, the films and plays has been set according to the original time/location of 1960s New York. The change in setting allows the production to explore the cross-cultural community fostered there by marginalized people of color.

According to Lo, it has been “an absolute joy digging in with our cast and designers on how shifting this musical’s setting and time period can create even more layers and nuance.”

The casting director and literary manager of TheatreWorks Silicon Valley told the Asian Journal that he has long wanted to bring this vision of “Little Shop of Horrors” to the stage.

“Little Shop of Horrors is a musical I’ve loved for quite some time and the thought of setting this beloved musical in modern day San Francisco Chinatown has excited me for many years. We’ve been waiting for the right moment at TheatreWorks to create this production of Little Shop and I’m so excited we are finally getting to do it now,” he said via email. “One of the things that excites me so much about Little Shop is that it is filled with so much fun: the vibrant characters, the catchy music and the exciting dance. Woven within all of that fun is a cautionary tale about greed and hoarding resources. For me, this is when storytelling is at its best: when your audiences can have so much fun while also walking away thinking about how they can be better people.”

While “Little Shop of Horrors” has almost always presented a multicultural cast, the Fil-Am stage director said that everyone involved in this production did a lot of work in order to present a show that deals with having the play set in the Bay Area and having a multicultural cast that audiences will see differs from the original.

“…In order to create a production like ours, which is set in a very specific neighborhood and features a multicultural cast that is different from the original, we put in a lot of work to understand, as best we could, what it meant to have these different people and different communities represented by these characters and this story. There was a lot of work, a lot of learning, and a lot of listening that was incorporated into every part of our production, including scenic and costume design to acting choices. I’m incredibly appreciative of our cast, designers, and our cultural consultant for working together towards a holistic approach to the representation found in our production,” Lo revealed, while reminding that “Little Shop of Horrors” has always had interactions between African Americans, Jewish Americans and the alien plant.

Lo believes that there is a lesson to be learned from watching “Little Shop of Horrors” and he is hoping that audiences will leave with a more positive attitude towards one another after watching the musical.

“‘Little Shop’ has always been a musical warning us about what can happen when greed overtakes – it reminds us of the importance of being generous to one another. I would love for audiences to leave our production rejecting a scarcity mindset and to instead envision a world where we embrace abundance and embrace supporting one another. I think this lesson is incredibly important in today’s world,” he said.

Lo, who’s directing credits include “Hold These Truths” and “The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin” at San Francisco Playhouse; “Vietgone” and “The Great Leap” at Capital  Stage; “Peter and the Starcatcher” and “Noises Off” at Hillbarn Theatre; “The Crucible,” “Yellow Face,” and “The Grapes of Wrath” at Los Altos Stage Company; “Uncle Vanya” at the Pear Theatre (BATCC award for Best  Production); and “A Doll’s House, Part 2” and “Eurydice” at Palo Alto Players (TBA Awards finalist for Best Direction), fell in love with theatre as a high school student.

“I was mostly doing it for fun when I first started. But when I wrote and directed my first play, a fire was lit inside of me and I really felt the power of what storytelling can do for the world. I was introduced to an artform that could help people feel understood, change people’s perspectives for the better, and create empathy in the world. When I discovered what storytelling could truly do, I knew that it was what I needed to pursue as my life’s work,” he revealed.

After “Little Shop of Horrors” Lo will be directing the Caridad Svich play “Red Bike” at Center Repertory Company, which will have its engagement at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek in February 2023.

His dream project, though, is something closer to home and to his roots.

“A few plays that I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to direct are ‘God Said This’ by Leah Nanako Winkler and ‘Gruesome Playground Injuries’ by Rajiv Joseph. I love both of those plays so much,” Lo told the Asian Journal. “But if I had to be really honest with myself, I’d have to say getting the chance to produce a deeply Filipino-American story like my play ‘Writing Fragments Home’ would be a dream come true. I have yet to be given the opportunity to tell a deeply Filipino story on a large professional stage yet and I cannot wait for that time to come.”

Phil Wong plays the role of Seymour in TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s presentation of “Little Shop of Horrors”

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley has assembled a talented cast for “Little Shop of Horrors,” including Bay Area theatre veteran Phil Wong (“It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Show,” “Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga,” “Currency”), Sumi Yu (credits include Starz’s “Heels” and NBC’s “Rise”), Lawrence-Michael Arias (“M. Butterfly,” “Red,” “Bat Boy The Musical,” “Pacific Overtures, “Jayne Eyre”), Katrina Lauren McGraw, Brandon Leland, Nick Nakashima (“Sense and Sensibility,” “The Learned Ladies of Park Avenue,” “A Little Night of Music”), Naima Alakham (“Dreamgirls”), Alia Hodge (“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” “Rent”) and Lucca Troutman.

Sumi Yu plays the role of Audrey in the “Little Shop of Horrors” presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.

“Little Shop of Horrors” also features musical direction by William Liberatore, choreography by William Thomas Hodgson, scenic design by Christopher Fitzer, costume design by Fumiko Bielefeldt, lighting design by Wen-Ling Liao, and sound design by Jeff Mockus. Taylor McQuesten serves as stage manager, with Emily Wolf as assistant stage manager.

TheatreWorks is committed to creating an environment that is accessible for all audiences in its community. American Sign Language interpretation will be available at the performance of “Little Shop of Horrors” at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, December 13. In partnership with c2 Caption Coalition, TheatreWorks will offer open captioning (a screen displaying all dialogue and a description of sound effects) for the performances at 2 p.m. & 7 p.m., Sunday, December 18, and 2 p.m., Wednesday, December 21.

TheatreWorks is partnering with Gravity in offering audio descriptions to assist patrons who are visually impaired. This service, which includes a pre-show talk, will be available 8 p.m. Saturday, December 17; 8 p.m. Friday, December 23; and 2 p.m. Saturday, December 24. (To utilize audio description, patrons should pre-register at (877)-662-8978 after purchasing tickets). Assisted listening devices are offered at every performance with no advance registration required. For more information about accessibility programs at TheatreWorks, visit TheatreWorks.org/venues/accessibility/.

TheatreWorks is also dedicated to engaging audiences through community programming and arts engagement, furthering its mission to develop programming that invests and amplifies the voices and experiences of the theatre company’s diverse communities. For each of the shows in the 2022/23 season, TheatreWorks will host In Conversation events, a series of free community events allowing community members to be in conversation with artists and the works onstage. In Conversation events will be staged for Little Shop of Horrors after the 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday, December 10 and Saturday, December 17. Investing in the voices of the future, TheatreWorks will present a student matinee of Little Shop of Horrors at 11am Thursday, December 8, 2022.

For up-to-date information on COVID-19 health and safety procedures, visit TheatreWorks.org/safetyupdate/.

“Little Shop of Horrors” is currently playing at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto, CA until December 24. Photo above shows cast members Phil Wong and Sumi Yu. Photos by Andria Lo

“Little Shop of Horrors” is being presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley from November 30 to December 24, at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. Subscriptions for the 2022/23 season are currently available and single tickets (starting at $35) started to be on sale on Wednesday, November 2, 2022. For more information, visit TheatreWorks.org or call (877)-662-8978.

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, led by Artistic Director Tim Bond, presents a wide variety of contemporary plays and musicals, revitalizes great works of the past, and serves more than 100,000 patrons per year. Founded in 1970 by Robert Kelley, TheatreWorks has grown from a truly original Silicon Valley start-up to become one of the nation’s leading professional non-profit theatre companies. TheatreWorks was recently honored as the recipient of the 2019 Regional Theatre Tony Award. TheatreWorks also champions new work, offering artists support and a creative home as they develop new stories for the American theatre. Offstage, TheatreWorks’ arts education programs in local schools and arts engagement programs in Silicon Valley neighborhoods uplift its audiences and strengthen community bonds. Whether onstage or off, TheatreWorks welcomes the mosaic of people that embody the Bay Area and beyond, celebrating the transformative power of theatre to ignite imagination, inspire conversation, and interconnect our human spirits.

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