Little Shop of Horrors

ArtsWatch Weekly: If you build it, they will come (to Hillsboro)

Bag&Baggage takes a big leap, Bluebeard meets Chihuly at the symphony, Renée Fleming wows the crowd, a cat in a hat, the things August Wilson learned

Don’t look now (or do), but while the center of cultural gravity in Portland might still be on the downtown side of the Willamette River, it’s been shifting and expanding. The restaurant crowds started heading for the inner East Side a good fifteen years ago, and theaters escalated the eastward march. Things didn’t stop there. Immigration and population shifts created booming pockets of culture farther out, both east and west: the new Chinatown along the East Side’s 82nd Avenue, a Russian community along Foster Road, several Latino enclaves, a large Indian community in parts of Beaverton and Hillsboro, near the Silicon Forest. Suburbs have grown, and begun to assert their own identities separate from the city core. They’ve built or broadened their own cultural centers, from the nascent Beaverton Center for the Arts to established theater companies like Lake Oswego’s Lakewood Theatre and Tigard’s Broadway Rose.

Exterior rendering of the new Bag&Baggage theater in downtown Hillsboro, slated to open in April 2017. Image: Opsis Architects

Exterior rendering of the new Bag&Baggage theater in downtown Hillsboro, slated to open in April 2017. Image: Opsis Architects

While much of Portland Proper wasn’t looking, the onetime farm town of Hillsboro has become a city of more than 100,000 people, many looking for culture without having to trek to downtown Portland. Bag&Baggage theater settled into the suburb’s downtown core eleven years ago, performing sometimes on an outdoor stage and mostly in the Venetian Theatre, an old vaudeville and movie house. A little more than a year ago it bought an old Wells Fargo bank building on Main Street and began the long quest to raise $1.4 million to transform it into a new performance center.

Let Scott Palmer, B&B’s founder and artistic director, pick up the story from there, as quoted in a recent press announcement:

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Oh, the horror: devil gets his due

Portland Center Stage trumps the season with a sharp and funny revival of the dark and twisted musical comedy "Little Shop of Horrors"

Maybe you’ve heard this story before. Exotic guy who talks tons of trash shows up out of the blue and fascinates just about everybody with his general weirdness. Schlub of a loser soon learns the guy is scary and dangerous in addition to being an obnoxious loudmouth, but the exotic guy promises the schlub his heart’s desire. So the schlub, after some anxious soul-searching, capitulates and helps the exotic guy on his quest for world domination. People get chomped to pieces in the process.

No, it’s not the story of the Republican Party making its devil’s deal with Donald Trump in pursuit of the Oval Office. It’s the musical comedy Little Shop of Horrors, and the exotic guy is a blood-sucking, singing plant from outer space. The schlub is a hapless clerk named Seymour at a Skid Row floral shop. His heart’s desire is Audrey, his pretty if slightly dim and bedraggled fellow clerk, who’s in an unfortunate relationship with a sadistic dentist. And the Oval Office is … well, a little trim house out in the suburbs, somewhere that’s green.

Nick Cearley as Seymour, with a baby-sized Audrey II. Photo: Patrick Weishampel

Nick Cearley as Seymour, with a baby-sized Audrey II. Photo: Patrick Weishampel

Little Shop, that evergreen 1983 off-off-Broadway musical based on a 1960 schlock movie filmed in two days by Roger Corman on the not-yet-struck set of another low-budget flick, opened Portland Center Stage’s newest season Friday night, and the good news is, it’s a solid, straightforward, blissfully unconceptualized production of a reliably entertaining show that doesn’t need any embellishment. Director Bill Fennelly doesn’t try to reinvent the thing: he just makes sure it’s polished and paced and, yes, entertaining. If you have a warm spot for Little Shop – I do, and fondly recall, among a lengthy list of Little Shops, a long-ago Portland production starring Randall Stuart as Seymour, Margie Boulé as Audrey, Randy Knee as dentist Orin, and Ernie Casciato as shop owner Mushnik – you’re likely to feel warm and fuzzy all over again. If you’ve never seen Little Shop … well, welcome to the club.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: all aboard for Eugene

A Eugene cultural tour, Anne Boleyn's music book, a little shop of horror and a full gallop, monkey business, Yetis, two top art shows, "Hughie," roots music, Alien Boy, guns galore, spirit of '76

There are lots of good reasons to go to Eugene that have nothing to do with Ducks or football. Sure, the presence of the University of Oregon has a lot to do with the quality of things down the valley: two of ArtsWatch’s favorite things, for instance, the Oregon Bach Festival and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, are intimately tied to the university, and a lot of what’s good about Oregon’s new-music scene emanates from the halls and studios of the university’s music department. But the university is far from the only game in town. However you keep your cultural scorecard, Eugene – population roughly 160,000, metro area another 200,000 added to that – consistently hits above its weight.

Here at ArtsWatch we like to keep tabs on what’s happening in the Emerald City, and lately that’s been quite a bit. For starters, check out Gary Ferrington’s Arts Sampler: Eugene by train for a car-free, arts-stuffed weekend, a sort of cultural travelogue for Portlanders looking for a close-to-home adventure. Go ahead, plan an autumn getaway. And if you like, feel free to slip in a football game or a track meet on the side, too.

Portland-bound Amtrak Cascades at Eugene Station.

Portland-bound Amtrak Cascades at Eugene Station.

We’ve also picked up some good features from some top Eugene writers:

— Photographer and arts journalist Bob Keefer, author of the invaluable Eugene Art Talk online journal, has undertaken an almost year-long project of following the development of a new version of The Snow Queen for Eugene Ballet, with a fresh score by Oregon composer Kenji Bunch and choreography by EB’s longtime artistic director, Toni Pimble, who is recognized nationally as a creator of vivid and original ballets. Keefer will write about ten installments leading up to the premiere next spring, and ArtsWatch will reprint them once they’ve debuted on Eugene Art Talk. Here’s Episode 2, focusing on designer Nadya Geras-Carson.

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