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Little Shop of Horrors pre-production photos

Photos by Nile Scott Hawver/Nile Scott Studios

Katrina Z Pavao (Audrey), Dan Prior (Seymour) with Audrey II.
Dan Prior (Seymour), Katrina Z Pavao (Audrey) with Audrey II.
Katrina Z Pavao (Audrey), Dan Prior (Seymour) with Audrey II.
Katrina Z Pavao (Audrey), Dan Prior (Seymour) with Audrey II.
Katrina Z Pavao (Audrey), Dan Prior (Seymour) with Audrey II.

Chatting with Janie Howland, Scenic Designer

We talked with Janie Howland, the scenic designer of Pacific Overtures!

What Lyric Stage shows have you worked on before?

JH: I’ve been working at the Lyric Stage for 25 years. I’ve done
at least two shows a season. So, it has to be at least 50 and a few
more—maybe 60. In fact, I did my first professional show ever at
the Lyric Stage and Spiro directed it.

What excites and challenges you about of Pacific Overtures?

JH: Pacific Overtures is difficult. In the beginning of the script,
Sondheim alludes to Kabuki Theater and so we started there, but
this space physically doesn’t lend itself to that and I question why
we are referencing it at all? It feels so separate from American
theater, and it’s so stylized—I feel like it would alienate the
audiences a little bit. If we’re trying to tell a real story about
something that’s important—which in this case is people
overcoming other people and imposing their culture on them—
then it feels like Kabuki is not going to help us. So then putting
that aside it becomes a challenge of “okay, well what story
are we telling? And how do we keep it Japanese but make it
accessible?”

How many different theaters do you work at in a year? How many shows do you design?

JH: I design, on average, ten shows a year. But the Lyric Stage
is home. The Lyric Stage has always been home. I know the
space. I dream the space.

What’s your favorite space to work in?

JH: The Lyric Stage!

You don’t have to say that! (But of course we’re thrilled that you did.)

JH: I love three-quarter thrust because I love the intimacy
and I love pushing the set out to the audience.

What’s your process like?

JH: Once I am hired, I read the script, listen to the music, and just
feel it. I don’t get into specifics of “there has to be a door, there has
to be….” I just ask what does this play feel like? I do what’s called
an emotional response. It’s any kind of creative regurgitation. I
tend to make little sculptures but when I teach I tell my students
they can do anything—compose a song, do a movement piece, etc.
Then I present it to the director as my initial “this is how I feel about
the play” and it becomes a jumping off point for further discussion.

Does it change for you when you read a play or musical that
you’ve never read or worked on before versus one you’re
familiar with or have worked on before?

JH: If it’s within a particularly small timeframe, it will be hard to
have a different response to it. I did A Streetcar Named Desire
twice a year apart and the directors brought completely opposite
concepts. In the first production the focus was how the outside
world impacted Blanche, and how the color, light, and noise
really pressed on her. With the second one, the director was really
interested in it being an internal monologue from Blanche—
almost like she dreamed it happened. And it was much more
abstract and (I think) a better design. The first one won multiple
awards; it was beautiful, it was huge—it was a classic Streetcar.
But the second one was more interesting. I didn’t go into the
second one with a different emotional response, but the director
took it in a whole different direction.

What inspires you as an artist?

JH: Anything visual can inspire you. Sometimes I walk around
outside and look up at the buildings. If you look up instead of
down, there’s beautiful architecture in Boston. My favorite art
movements are Art Nouveau and Art Deco, and Van Gogh is my
favorite painter because he’s very expressionistic. I always go to
art—I go to sculpture and painting for inspiration

More About Pacific Overtures

This startling, entertaining, and thrilling masterpiece puts a cap on Spiro Veloudos’ multi-year Sondheim Initiative. An unlikely friendship is forged between a samurai, Kayama, and an Americanized fisherman, Manjiro, during Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853 mission to open trade relations with isolationist Japan. The two friends are caught in the inevitable winds of change and tell the story of Japan’s painful and harrowing Westernization. A highly original, inventive, powerful, and surprisingly humorous theatrical experience.

“Musical theater at its most intellectually challenging.  Extraordinary songs!”   – NY Times

“It’s enthralling to see Sondheim’s songs work so magically well!” – Huffington Post

About Janie E. Howland, Scenic Design

Janie E. Howland** (Scenic Design) has called the Lyric Stage home for 25 years, having recently designed Little Foxes and Anna Christie. Other recent designs: Nat Turner in Jerusalem (ASP), Caroline or Change (Moonbox), Art Makes Sense CONSENSES Exhibit (Mass MOCA), Madeline’s Christmas (BCT), Urban Nutcracker (City Ballet). Other venues: Lynn Redgrave Theatre (NY), Emerson Majestic, New Rep, Weston Playhouse, North Shore Music Theatre, Odyssey Opera, Central Square Theatre, Gloucester Stage, SpeakEasy Stage, Ohio Star Theatre, A.R.T. Institute, Boston Conservatory, Company One, Greater Boston Stage Company, Seacoast Rep, Merrimack Repertory Theatre, New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, and Huntington Theatre Studio 210. Brandeis University M.F.A.; four-time Elliot Norton Award winner, four-time IRNE Award winner, adjunct faculty at Emerson College, Wellesley College. USA Local 829. janiehowland.com

Chatting with Lisa Yuen

We talked with Lisa Yuen, who portrays Reciter, Shogun, Storyteller, and Emperor in our upcoming production of Pacific Overtures!

What Lyric Stage shows have you worked on before?

LY: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Into the Woods,
Sweeney Todd, and Kiss of the Spider Woman

What you about of Pacific Overtures?

LY: Spiro Veloudos and music director Jon Goldberg LOVE
Sondheim! They are two of Boston’s most passionate and informed
Sondheim experts and I predict rehearsals to be masterclasses
about one of America’s greatest composers and lyricists.

What challenges you about Pacific Overtures?

LY: Pacific Overtures is commonly touted as Sondheim’s most
ambitious and sophisticated score and that description alone
is a daunting task. Everyone approaches Sondheim’s work with
deep intellect and then as an artist, you are reminded of how well
Sondheim can tap into the complexity of human emotion.

Where do you and The Reciter intersect?

LY: At the role’s heart, The Reciter is a storyteller and I’ve made
a career of being just that. We will be rediscovering the 1976
Broadway classic to its bare essence of storytelling—about
holding onto tradition while trying to be successful with change
and modernization. More importantly, we ask ourselves how
this dichotomy effects the human condition and its relations,
as so excellently portrayed in the development of the roles
of Manjiro and Kayama. I love hearing the role of the Reciter
through a woman’s voice since there are such great themes of
modernization and strength—very timely for now.
The Lyric Stage has always been very generous and has allowed
me to play roles that are not usually played by an Asian female.
The Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods was probably my most favorite
Lyric experience. The Baker’s Wife is traditionally played by
a white female but my goodness, the role is a made-up fairy
tale character. Why can’t she be Asian? I remember going to
the callbacks and thinking I should wear glasses so I could
appear to be a stereotypical “smart Asian” and that would be
my take. Fast forward to the actual production, and I lost the
glasses, any sense of racial identity, and just went to the heart
of the role. Most important was her mission to have, love and
protect her family, a mission any ethnicity can relate to. When
Pacific Overtures became a possibility, Spiro surprised me once
again with his progressive vision by casting a woman in a role
that is traditionally played by a man. Spiro knows that these
opportunities are so much greater than just one person, it’s
about opening the audiences’ eyes of inclusivity and ridding
ourselves of unconscious bias.

What excites you about working on a piece that is rarely
revived due to its complexity?

LY: Ha! You ask me this question after my last show at the Lyric
Stage was Kiss of the Spiderwoman, a musical about a homosexual
window dresser, who is serving his third year in an Argentinian
prison. The Lyric Stage is really highlighting the complex musicals
this year and I am in deep and in love with the challenge.

What does it mean to you to be working with an all-Asian
cast? Have you ever had that experience before?

LY: I spent 5 years performing in Broadway’s Miss Saigon,
performed with the national tours of The King and I and Flower
Drum Song, and I have worked with numerous all-Asian casts
regionally. From the first day of rehearsal, there’s usually this
very comfortable, loving, familial sense, like everyone knows
each other, even if we don’t. Boston is rich with talented and kind
Asian American actors and delving deeper into this community
was a great draw for me to want to do this show.

More About Pacific Overtures

This startling, entertaining, and thrilling masterpiece puts a cap on Spiro Veloudos’ multi-year Sondheim Initiative. An unlikely friendship is forged between a samurai, Kayama, and an Americanized fisherman, Manjiro, during Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853 mission to open trade relations with isolationist Japan. The two friends are caught in the inevitable winds of change and tell the story of Japan’s painful and harrowing Westernization. A highly original, inventive, powerful, and surprisingly humorous theatrical experience.

“Musical theater at its most intellectually challenging.  Extraordinary songs!”   – NY Times

“It’s enthralling to see Sondheim’s songs work so magically well!” – Huffington Post

About Lisa Yuen, Reciter, Shogun, Storyteller, Emperor

Lisa Yuen* (Reciter, Shogun, Storyteller, Emperor) returns to the Lyric Stage having appeared in Kiss of The Spider Woman, Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.  Local credits include:  The King and I (North Shore Music Theatre), Ragtime and Mary Poppins (Wheelock Family Theatre), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Theatre by the Sea) and New Rep.  Other credits include 7.5 years on Broadway (Miss Saigonand The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.), 4 national tours (The King and I, Flower Drum Song, The Scarlet Pimperneland The Pirates of Penzance), Off-Broadway (Second Stage and York Theatre), Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, regional theatre (including Paper Mill Playhouse, The MUNY, PCLO, and Sacramento Music Circus) and TV/film including 23 episodes as “Rachel” on  All My Children, Body of Proof, The Martha Stewart Show, World Trade Center). Brookline mom to twins.  B.A. from UCLA.  Love and gratitude to Mom, Kevin, family, and friends.  

Why³ with Pacific Overtures Director Spiro Veloudos

We asked all of our directors this season the question “why?” Here are the answers from the director of our upcoming show, Pacific Overtures!

Why Pacific Overtures?

It’s one of the final major Sondheim musicals that I haven’t done (Passion and Merrily We Roll Along are the others.) As we are taking a hiatus from Sondheim musicals, Overtures seems fitting. In addition, its book was written by John Wiedman. I have directed the other two plays written by him with Mr. Sondheim (Assassins and Road Show), so with Overtures I close the circle that started in 1998 with our now famous production of Assassins.

Why at The Lyric Stage?

For the last 20 seasons, The Lyric Stage Company has made a “cottage industry” out of taking musicals that were originally conceived on a large scale and boiling them down to their essence (My Fair Lady, Kiss Me, Kate and Gypsy to name a few.) Overtures had one of the largest casts in its original production. We will scale that down to 11 or 12 without sacrificing this story of the effect of American Imperialism (along with several other western countries) upon Japan, which had isolated itself in 1600 (as described in the opening number).

Why now?

While it would be capricious to compare America’s current actions in foreign affairs to Millard Filmore’s “Gunboat Diplomacy” of 1853, American military influence in many areas (such as the Mideast, Viet Nam, and Korea) might bear comparison. The foisting of the “American Dream” on countries or areas of the world that might not be appreciative of it, and the sometimes tragic consequences of those actions (especially a little over 8 months after the evacuation of Saigon, when Pacific Overtures opened) might have had an influence on the writers. Whether it is opening trade, saving the world from Communism, or just preserving America’s need for oil, Pacific Overtures shines a light on the folly that is sometimes called American foreign policy.

More about Pacific Overtures:

Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853 mission to open trade relations with isolationist Japan through gunboat diplomacy forges an unlikely friendship between the samurai, Kayama, and the Americanized fisherman, Manjiro. The two of them – and all of Japanese society – must face the wave of Westernization that follows.  Spiro Veloudos puts a cap on his multi-year Sondheim Initiative with this startling, entertaining, and thrilling masterpiece.

“Mr. Sondheim’s songs are complete miniature dramas, loaded and compressed to a profound intensity.” – New York Times

A First Look At Pacific Overtures

We’re busy building the set for Pacific Overtures, but we wanted to share with you a sneak peek of the beautiful set, designed by Janie E. Howland (
United Scenic Artists (USA-Local 829))!

About Pacific Overtures

This startling, entertaining, and thrilling masterpiece puts a cap on Spiro Veloudos’ multi-year Sondheim Initiative. An unlikely friendship is forged between a samurai, Kayama, and an Americanized fisherman, Manjiro, during Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853 mission to open trade relations with isolationist Japan. The two friends are caught in the inevitable winds of change and tell the story of Japan’s painful and harrowing Westernization. A highly original, inventive, powerful, and surprisingly humorous theatrical experience.

“Musical theater at its most intellectually challenging.  Extraordinary songs!”   – NY Times

“It’s enthralling to see Sondheim’s songs work so magically well!” – Huffington Post

About Janie E. Howland, Scenic Design

Janie E. Howland** (Scenic Design) has called the Lyric Stage home for 25 years, having recently designed Little Foxes and Anna Christie. Other recent designs: Nat Turner in Jerusalem (ASP), Caroline or Change (Moonbox), Art Makes Sense CONSENSES Exhibit (Mass MOCA), Madeline’s Christmas (BCT), Urban Nutcracker (City Ballet). Other venues: Lynn Redgrave Theatre (NY), Emerson Majestic, New Rep, Weston Playhouse, North Shore Music Theatre, Odyssey Opera, Central Square Theatre, Gloucester Stage, SpeakEasy Stage, Ohio Star Theatre, A.R.T. Institute, Boston Conservatory, Company One, Greater Boston Stage Company, Seacoast Rep, Merrimack Repertory Theatre, New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, and Huntington Theatre Studio 210. Brandeis University M.F.A.; four-time Elliot Norton Award winner, four-time IRNE Award winner, adjunct faculty at Emerson College, Wellesley College. USA Local 829. janiehowland.com

Irne Awards Graphic

Lyric Stage Wins 3 IRNE Awards!

At last night’s 2019 Independent Reviewers of New England Awards, three members of the Lyric Stage family brought home awards!

Congratulations to

About Eddy Cavazos

Eddy Cavazos made his Lyric Stage debut as Molina in Kiss of the Spider Woman. He most recently appeared in his solo cabaret, #Masc4Mascara, at Don’t Tell Mama in NYC. Other credits include Manuel vs. The Statue of Liberty (The Gallery Players), White Christmas(Arts Center of Coastal Carolina), Junie B. Jones (Theatre Aspen), Peter and the Starcatcher (Theatre Aspen), Hairspray (All Star Theatre), and The Little Mermaid (Fiddlehead Theatre Company). He would like to thank the entire cast and creative team for their hard work, his family and friends for encouraging him to tell stories, and everyone who continuously supports the arts! M.F.A. from the Boston Conservatory. @yayitseddy

About Yewande Odetoyinbo

Yewande Odetoyinbo* (Angel Mo’) is a native of Detroit, MI and a proud graduate of Howard University, where she earned a B.F.A. in Musical Theatre and became a member of Sigma Alpha Iota. She also holds a shiny new M.F.A. in Musical Theatre Performance from the Boston Conservatory at Berklee. She returns to the Lyric Stage having appeared in The Wiz last spring. Some of her favorite performances include roles in Fannie Lou at Carnegie Hall, the national tour of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds (Adventure Theatre), Trav’lin: The 1930s Harlem Musical (Seven Angels Theatre, Waterbury, CT), Show Boat (Reagle Music Theatre and Fiddlehead Theatre), and In the Heights, and Seussical at Wheelock Family Theatre. She has been seen in various staged readings with The Front Porch Arts Collective and Goodspeed Opera House. It is her lifelong dream not only to perform and teach theatre to inner-city youth but also to open up a performing arts school in Nigeria. She thanks the Lord for His many blessings and her family and friends for their love and support. She would also like to thank Maurice Emmanuel Parent, the Front Porch Arts Collective, and the Lyric Stage family! Ase!

About Johnathan Carr

Johnathan Carr returned to the Lyric Stage for Production Design for Kiss of the Spider Woman after designing By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, Into the Woods,Red Hot PatriotCity of Angels, and Hold These Truths. Boston design credits include An Octoroon (Company One), HEAR WORD!, Pippin (American Repertory Theater), The Man Who (Harvard), Searching for Signal (ToUch Performance Art). New York: H4 (Resonance Ensemble), Same River (Strike Anywhere Performance Ensemble). He currently teaches at Harvard College’s Theater, Dance, and Media concentration with fellow show designer Andrew Will.

Twelfth Night production photos

All photos by Mark S. Howard

Hayley Spivey, Alejandro Simoes
Bobbie Steinbach, Alejandro Simoes, Michael Forden Walker
Richard Snee, Bobbie Steinbach, Alejandro Simoes, Michael Forden Walker
Richard Snee, Michael Forden Walker, Bobbie Steinbach, Jennie Israel
Alejandro Simoes, Hayley Spivey, Donimic Carter, Rachel Belleman, Samantha Richert
Jennie Israel, Bobbie Steinbach, Alejandro Simoes
Richard Snee, Samantha Richert, Rachel Belleman
Dominic Carter, Samantha Richert
Alejandro Simoes, Hayley Spivey, Rachel Belleman
Bobbie Steinbach, Alejandro Simoes, Jennie Israel
Hayley Spivey, Alejandro Simoes, Samantha Richert, Dominic Carter
The cast of Twelfth Night
Alejandro Simoes, Hayley Spivey

Fun Facts About Twelfth Night Director Paula Plum!

Paula Plum is no stranger to the Lyric Stage! You may recognize her from the multiple productions she’s worked on, but here are some fun facts you may not have known about the director of Twelfth Night:

  1. Paula has been working as an actor and director with the Lyric Stage since 1975.
  2. She is a founding member of Actor’s Shakespeare Project, which is co-producing Twelfth Night.
  3. The first show Paula acted in at the Lyric Stage was Dial M for Murder in 1975!
  4. In 2004, Paula received the Elliot Norton Award for Sustained Excellence. She has also been awarded 2 other Elliot Norton Awards, 5 IRNE awards, and numerous other honors.
  5. The first play Paula directed at the Lyric Stage was Baltimore Waltz in 1999.
  6. Paula has acted in over a dozen shows at the Lyric, including Miss WitherspoonThe Heiress, and Death of a Salesman.
  7. Paula recently played Sharon in the Lyric Stage’s production of The Roommate. She contributed many personal items to the show’s set!
  8. Paula is married to Richard Snee, who plays Malvolio in Twelfth Night.

Learn More About Paula Plum

Paula Plum (Director) is a founding member of Actors’ Shakespeare Project and has worked as an actor and director with the Lyric Stage since 1975. She has been Artistic Director of WGBH’s A Christmas Celtic Sojourn since its inception in 2003, touring concerts throughout New England during the holiday season. She has directed in Paris, New York, and Boston and is the 2009 recipient of the Fox Actor Fellowship. In the last year she has directed the Leonard Bernstein Centennial Celebration for the Boston Pops and Reclaiming Lucretia for Boston Lyric Opera. Paula is the recipient of the Elliot Norton Award for Sustained Excellence, five IRNE Awards, three Elliot Norton Awards for Outstanding Actress, and was the 2003 Distinguished Alumna of Boston University’s College of Fine Arts. paulaplum.com

A Brief Synopsis of Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night is a tale of unrequited love, simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking. Twins are separated during a shipwreck and are forced to fend for themselves in a strange land. The first twin, Viola, falls in love with Orsino, who dotes on Olivia, who falls for Viola but is idolized by Malvolio. Enter Sebastian, who is the spitting image of his twin sister… is it possible for this to all end well?  Well, it IS a comedy!

Why³ with Paula Plum

We asked all of our directors this season the question “why?” Here are the answers from the director of our upcoming show, Twelfth Night. Photo of Paula Plum by Gary Ng.

Why this play? 

Because we love love stories when they’re both comic and sad. These characters are all looking for love in the wrong places. And for me, it’s send in the clowns: the ASP company members in this play are all the clowns.

Why a co-production with Lyric Stage?

Spiro has said that the future of theatre in this city is collaboration not competition. We all benefit by sharing resources. And plus, I’ve been working at the Lyric Stage since I was 20 and I’m a founding member of ASP. It’s a perfect fit. 

Why now? 

I can’t read or think about this play without thinking that Viola is a refugee who has to disguise herself because she can’t be who she is. It’s such a contemporary theme: the immigrant/refugee who has to change their identity in order to survive.

About Director Paula Plum

Paula Plum (Director) is a founding member of Actors’ Shakespeare Project and has worked as an actor and director with the Lyric Stage since 1975. She has been Artistic Director of WGBH’s A Christmas Celtic Sojourn since its inception in 2003, touring concerts throughout New England during the holiday season. She has directed in Paris, New York, and Boston and is the 2009 recipient of the Fox Actor Fellowship. In the last year she has directed the Leonard Bernstein Centennial Celebration for the Boston Pops and Reclaiming Lucretia for Boston Lyric Opera. Paula is the recipient of the Elliot Norton Award for Sustained Excellence, five IRNE Awards, three Elliot Norton Awards for Outstanding Actress, and was the 2003 Distinguished Alumna of Boston University’s College of Fine Arts. paulaplum.com

About Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night is a tale of unrequited love – hilarious and heartbreaking. Twins are separated during a shipwreck and are forced to fend for themselves in a strange land. The first twin, Viola, falls in love with Orsino, who dotes on Olivia, who falls for Viola but is idolized by Malvolio. Enter Sebastian, who is the spitting image of his twin sister… is it possible for this to all end well?   Well, it IS a comedy!

A co-production with Actors’ Shakespeare Project.

“If music be the food of love, play on, Give me excess of it.”  – William Shakespeare