Thursday, December 8, 2022


Buddy (Dave J. Abrams in green) dances in Santa’s workshop. (Mark and Tracy Photography)

Hard hearts melt in ‘Elf the Musical’ at Hillbarn

Kicking off the holiday season, Hillbarn Theatre & Conservatory is staging “Elf the Musical,” an adaptation of the popular film.

It’s the story of Buddy (Dave J. Abrams) who was an infant in an orphanage when he crawled into Santa’s toy bag. Santa (Russ Bohard) didn’t realize he was there until he returned to the North Pole. He and Mrs. Claus (Lisa Appleyard) decided to raise him as one of their elves.

When Buddy became an adult, he learned that he was human, not an elf. Not only that, his father, Walter (Brandon Savage), lived in New York City and worked in the Empire State Building.

Despite knowing nothing about New York, Buddy found his way there, showed up at Walter’s office and insisted he was Walter’s son. Walter thought he was crazy and had him tossed out.

Over time, though, the hard-hearted Walter not only acknowledged that Buddy was his son but became imbued with the true Christmas spirit.

In the meantime, Buddy had won over Walter’s wife, Emily (Jessica Coker), and his 12-year-old son, Michael (Josh Parecki ). He also had fallen in love with the skeptical Jovie (Allison J. Parker), who worked in a department store.

Hillbarn artistic director Randy O’Hara directs the energetic diverse cast, eliciting fine performances from all the principals except Abrams as Buddy. He’s too loud and childish, eagerly embracing everyone he meets.

On the other hand, he’s a terrific dancer in the many scenes that feature Jeanne Batacan-Harper’s choreography.

Among the standouts in this fine cast are Savage as Walter, Jessica Coker as his wife and Parecki as his son. Also noteworthy are Bohard as Santa and Nadiyah Hollis as Walter’s boss and other characters. Other actors also play multiple roles.

The show features bouncy music by Matthew Sklar with lyrics by Chad Beguelin and a book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin.

Joe Murphy serves as musical director. The flexible set is by Matt Owens with lighting by Pamila Gary and over-miked sound by Sheraj Ragoobeer. The colorful, imaginative costumes are by Pam Lampkin.

Running just over two and a half hours with an intermission and suitable for all ages, “Elf” will continue through Dec. 18 at Hillbarn’s venue, 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City. For tickets and information, call (650) 349-6411 or visit


TheatreWorks moves 'Little Shop of Horrors’ to Chinatown

Seymour (Phil Wong) contends with Audry II. (Kevin Berne photo)

Director Jeffrey Lo moves TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors” from New York City’s skid row to an alley in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The change in venue doesn’t make much difference except for Christopher Fitzer’s set and a mostly Asian American cast.

Otherwise Alan Menken’s music and Howard Ashman’s book and lyrics are still entertaining. They tell the story of Seymour (Phil Wong), a nerdy employee of a rundown flower shop and his strange and interesting plant that changes life for everyone.

The other employee in the flower shop owned by Mr. Mushkin (Lawrence-Michael C. Arias) is Audrey (Sumi Yu ), whom Seymour secretly loves so much that he names the plant Audrey II. However, she already has a boyfriend, Orin (Nick Nakashima), a sadistic, abusive dentist who rides a motorcycle and is addicted to nitrous oxide, or laughing gas.

Serving as a kind of Greek chorus is a trio of Black women: Naima Alakham as Crystal, dance captain Alia Hodge as Chiffon and Lucca Troutman as Ronette.

Although the plant leads to improved business and fame for Seymour, it’s decidedly fickle. As it droops, Seymour implores it “Grow for Me.” He then discovers that human blood makes it grow – and grow. Thus, it claims human victims leading up to the tragic ending.

The three Black women provide highlights in songs like the title number, “Da-Doo” and “Dentist!” sung with Orin.

Audrey, who has low self–esteem, sings the plaintive “Somewhere That’s Green” to describe  her ideal suburban home in a place like Levittown, the name given to several low cost, cookie cutter suburbs in places like Pennsylvania, New York and elsewhere. After she and Seymour finally get together, he tells her he wants to take her to a fancy restaurant like Howard Johnson’s.

Brandon Leland plays a derelict before becoming the manipulator of Audrey II. Katrina Lauren McGraw supplies her voice and her demand, “Feed Me (Git It).”

As directed by Lo, the show features noteworthy acting by the entire cast. It also has lively choreography by William Thomas Hodgson to go with sound by Jeff Mockus and lighting by Wen-Ling Liao. Fumiko Bielefeldt designed the character-specific costumes.

Although “Little Shop of Horrors” is unconventional holiday fare, it’s nevertheless entertaining.

Running about two hours, it now continues through Dec. 31 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. Tickets and information are available by visiting or calling (877) 662-8978.