Delightfully campy, nerdy, sexy, and musical, new shows at the Can Can Culinary Cabaret and Village Theatre are likely to attract different audiences. Combined, they might be the most fun duo of the season.
Hitchcock Hotel @ Can Can Culinary Cabaret
Runs through 11/27. In Seattle (Pike Place Market).
When I entered Hitchcock Hotel, the vaguely spooky (and Bates Motel suggestingly-titled) new show at the Can Can Culinary Cabaret, the last thing I expected was a hot take on The Rocky Horror Show. But there it was: an inexperienced, cute but innocent nerd, having his sexuality ignited after stumbling into a dark, hedonistic place in a hidden-away locale he never could have imagined. Oh, Rocky!
Earlier this year, Seattle’s fabulously risqué theatre moved just up the block to its new Pike Place Market home, and promptly settled into its relatively sprawling new stage. In this new setup, a center hub looks out over a much-roomier dining and viewing space, while two catwalks stretch out in opposite directions and, importantly, bits of real estate between seating sections give the performers room to move about the crowd. The extra room throughout means choreographer Fae Pink and show writers Chris Pink and Jonathan Betchtel can now place the action on more than a single central catwalk and overhead grips for gratuitous aerial twirling. (Don’t worry, those are still there too.)
The new digs, while lacking a bit of the old space’s charm and character — or maybe it was all in the overhead purple glass tiles — give the creators and performers so much more room to work. And work they did, with the small cast filling up the space with sensuality, pure fun, and a story line and range of movement a bit more robust than the cramped former space would allow.
In its brand-new cabaret production, we meet an eager-to-work, bespectacled young man responding to an ad for a handyman at a mysterious old building called the Hitchcock Hotel. He’s hired on the spot. But when he goes inside beyond the facade, the naive new hire finds a terrifying environment of costumed hedonists, led by an enthusiastic, gender-ambiguous guide, who want to introduce his straight-laced self to their sex-positive ways.
Are you feeling a little “Time Warp” yet? Hitchcock Hotel clearly finds its inspiration in Frank N. Furter and the ominous mansion of fun, more so than anything Hitchcock. Well, except the cock part, of course.
Jonathan Betchtel, longtime ringleader of the Can Can’s unique blend of revelry in the Market, is both host and centerpiece here. As personable host he’s the storyteller, setting the scene of an unlikely tale and grown-up bedtime story. As star of the tale, he’s a bespectacled young job-seeker, eager and naive, and with his thick frames he Suddenly seems a lot like … Seymour? From there, I knew a trip to Little Shop of Horrors had to come next — but we’ll get to that bespectacled young plant shop assistant in a minute.
The bespectacled handyman’s hedonistic influencers are Frankly, played by a divine Richard Peacock, whose mentorship means our Jonny doesn’t stay naive for long; Shadow (Shadou Mintrone) and Silhouette (Sasha Voyt), turning up the heat with impressive physicality on the catwalks; and Madame Maybell (Tori Gresham), who brings down the house with her rendition of “You Don’t Own Me,” a fitting nod to bodily autonomy.
The multi-talented Mintrone also did the costume design, and it’s gorgeous. The cast is outfitted in vivid and oft-changing costumes, which range from luxe fringe (think vintage lampshade) to, well, basically nothing. But it’s an artful next-to-nothing. Chris Pink and Dave Pezzner’s music for the night — including an enchanting take on “The Vampire Masquerade” and a spin on a Rocky Horror classic (here, a “Sweet Transcendant”) — set the mood well. Lighting by Robert Aguilar and Robbie Matos lit up the stage, alongside art by Vicente T. Capala III, while Fae Pink’s choreography lit up the night.
A unique thing about a Can Can cast is the performers begin the night as your hosts, so you’ve already warmed to them by the time they shed their clothes and leap to the stage. They know the space well in both roles (as do the servers, who have to navigate the maze with ease even during the dark of the main event). The dining, drinking, and performing is all woven seamlessly into a night designed to be one of hedonistic fun.
And that’s exactly what it is, albeit a splurge-y one. (You can safely figure at least $100 per person on food, drinks, tax, and tip, and that’s on top of some hefty ticket prices. Add some cash to tip the performers after.) But this night out at the Can Can is more an experience than just a show, and for a special night out for enthusiasts of the consensual and sordid, this one’s a night to remember.
By the way, try the burata. It’s delicious.
‘Hitchcock Hotel’ runs through 11/27 at the Can Can Culinary Cabaret near Pike Place Market (new location: 95 Pine St.). Admission 21+. Performs with two intermissions, and food and drink service before and during the show (seating 30 minutes before show time). Restrooms are multi-stall and gender-neutral. Tickets start at $83 to $126 (with fees, depending on date), here.
Playing NWTheatre Bingo? Consider this show for squares 1, 4, 6, 7, or 25, plus 5 (can double-up this activity-based square).
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Little Shop of Horrors @ Village Theatre
Runs through 10/23 in Issaquah, then 10/28 to 11/20 in Downtown Everett.
Where the Can Can deals in brand-new spectacle, Village Theatre opens the season with something much more familiar to show-goers: a big musical on a proscenium stage, in this cult-classic story of a bloodthirsty plant. Little Shop of Horrors is firmly ingrained in pop culture. The musical by Alan Menken (music) and Howard Ashman (lyrics and book), was inspired by a 1960 film of the same name, and in turn prompted a 1986 film. The show premiered Off-Off-Broadway in 1982 before moving Off-Broadway, and finally made its Broadway debut in 2003.
Different as they are, Little Shop and Hitchcock Hotel share some common threads. Visually, the most obvious is the resemblance of a nerdy, naive Jonny at the top of the Can Can show, and a nerdy, naive Seymour throughout much of Village’s. The second commonality is a thematic one: a transformation from simmering, latent desire to an overwhelming devotion to carnal pleasure and freedom from restraints. (Or, in Jonny’s case, a newfound appreciation for them.) In Hitchcock, the flourishing desire is for human sexuality. In Little Shop, the focus is more botanical — the ravenous desires of a human-eating plant.
The ostensible lead, Seymour (played wonderfully by Kyle Nicholas Anderson), does grow; his increased sense of purpose in caring for the celebrity plant turns him into a more fully realized and confident version of himself. But it’s the plant, dubbed Audrey II, who’s the nascent star and has the most obvious transformation, growing both visually (to enormous proportions) and behaviorally (more demanding, brash, and unabashed). It’s the plant’s carnal desire that starts to take over the storefront, the show, and then … the world?
The ravenous Audrey II is portrayed in four puppets of escalating size, created by the theatre’s props team (led by Rachel Bennick), and controlled primarily by puppeteer John David Scott. (Seymour controls one of the smaller puppets, covering for the movement with a fake arm; read more about the secrets of the Village plants here.) Across the sizes, the plant goes from sad, cute, and endearing (a clever trickster), to impressive (helpfully drawing attention and acclaim to the failing shop and the rudderless Seymour), to demanding and manipulative (aided by a convincing voice in Kennedy Salters), to all-controlling. Salters and Scott conspire to animate the perfectly lively Audrey II and, when it reaches enormous proportions, it’s a terrifying puppet indeed.
The design team clearly had fun with this show. The set design by Timothy Mackabee captures a down and out city of New York. The costume design by Sarafina Bush is vivid and fun. And the lighting by Robert Aguilar (who also did Hitchcock‘s) hits the right mood notes and accentuates the rest of the work, particularly with an auguring illumination of Audrey II at her most innocent.
As usual, Village has attracted top talent throughout the cast, with Anderson in the leading role, joined by Shanelle Nicole Leonard (Audrey — Seymour’s human love interest, not the plant), Eric Polani Jensen (an affectionately cantankerous Mushnik), Nick Watson (the villain dentist, among others), and a guiding trio of Ania Briggs (a standout in Renton Civic Theatre’s Hair recently) (as Chiffon), Belle Shippy (Crystal), and Brandi Birdsong (Ronnette). Downstage mic issues didn’t do the trio any favors on their opening harmonies, but centerstage solos demonstrated the power of their voices. In her Village debut, Shippy owned the stage with a stirring solo at the top of “Skid Row (Downtown),” and won the room over right away with it.
With strong direction by Associate Artistic Director Brandon Ivie, choreography by Randy Ford, and music direction by Aaron M. Davis Norman and Tim Symons, Village’s Little Shop leans into both the whimsy and terror of the bloodthirsty, fantastical plant. The clear vision, talented cast, and spot-on design elements make for a fun, fantastical romp, just when we need one.
‘Little Shop of Horrors’ runs through 10/23 at Village Theatre on Front Street in Issaquah, and 10/28-11/20 at the Everett Performing Arts Center in Downtown (north) Everett. Run time: about 2 hours, with intermission. Tickets are $61-$97, here. Pay-what-you-choose tickets available for certain show dates (including most shows next weekend during Issaquah’s Salmon Days; see “Special Performances” on ticketing page), and same-day rush tickets offered for all show dates (info here).
Playing NWTheatre Bingo? Consider this show for squares 4, 6, or 12.
For shows by date, see the Performance Calendar.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.