Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

Did you go to ‘Rocky Horror’?


I went on Saturday night and enjoyed the boisterous scene for the return of Daniel Chavez Jr. and his live version of “The Rocky Horror Show” at the Tower Theatre. One advantage of seeing the show with a bigger crowd at a place like the Tower, compared to last year’s smaller edition of the show at the Severance Theatre, is that you have a better chance of having enough people in the audience who know the “call out” lines from the movie to provide what you’d call a critical mass of silly snark. The guy sitting in front of me was particularly adept. At one point, when Janet was whining that she’d always thought of saying herself till marriage, the guy shouted out with perfecting timing: “So was I — it’s not worth it!” He got a big laugh.

Did you see the show? What did you think?

Shifting from appreciate audience member into theater-critic mode, I feel a little like one of those New York Times critics who gush over a show when it’s at a tiny off-off-Broadway venue, but then gets a little grumpier when it moves to a larger house. This edition of “Rocky Horror” was, well, a little rocky compared to the superb alchemy of last year’s version. Part of it, I’m sure, was the abbreviated nature of the production: only two performances compared to last year’s 12, and a shorter rehearsal schedule, I’m guessing. Part was a less than adequate sound system and a rudimentary lighting design. Part was the challenge of using the tiny Tower stage for live theater. And part, I think, was competing with the memory of last year’s amazing show, which became a sold-out must-see.

Some happy thoughts:

  • Chavez opted to build a thrust stage out into the first few rows of the audience, greatly expanding the stage space and achieving a little more intimacy in the large house. A great call.
  • I really liked Chavez’s vocals as Frank ‘N’ Furter. He was a stronger singer than last year. And, as always, his imposing physical presence and strong choreography as the “sweet transvestite” — along with those amazing high kicks — dominated the show.
  • Hal Bolen, who had a nice introductory extended riff as the narrator, was a hoot.
  • It was fun watching many of last year’s talented cast members reprise their roles, especially Jeff White (who meted out a tender-goofy rendition of “Once in a While” that was fiercely funny), Justin Red (who like last year gave us a more slender helping of meatloaf than the movie but was raucous fun), Jeremy Hitch (who seemed a bit more, well, naughty this year), S. Eric Day (whose booming entrance caught this show’s jarring energy) and Katharine Dorian (who thanks to the sound system didn’t get a chance to wow as much as she could with her silly-slinky voice).
  • Speaking of voices, Alexis Garriott was a standout as Janet — though, again, it was hard to hear her over the band at times. Her “Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me” was among the strongest vocals and most theatrically emphatic experiences of the evening, however.
  • The Phantoms/Transylvanians were fun. And let’s face it: to see Brian Pucheu and Terry Lewis, both better known for more family-friendly Good Company fare, decked out in stuff like leather kilts, was a crack-up.

A few criticisms:

  • I missed interacting with the band and back-up vocalists, who were tucked away on a second-level platform.
  • As director, Chavez had issues trying to duplicate the blocking of the first show — particularly not being able to use that gloriously large and uninhibited basketball-court-like space of the Severance. This was particularly evident in the “floor show” in “Rose Tint My World.” If he returns to the Tower with this show, I think he has to continue to find ways to adapt it to the new space.
  • One staging sequence fell horribly flat: the seduction scenes of Brad and Janet. Last year’s version, enacted within a self-contained set piece designed to resemble a boudoir, was tremendously clever. This year’s, stuck up with the band on the second level, just didn’t work.
  • The choreography didn’t feel as confident or as tight as it should.
  • I was surprised not to see a little more actor interaction with the audience, whether it be more physical contact or just spreading out on occasion through the aisles.
  • Pitch is important even in a loud show like this. There were far too many sour/flat notes, particularly from Lilly Dale Murray as Magenta, and shouted ones, from Day. There were also some serious problems with diction, with entire songs almost unintelligible. You can get away with that a little easier in a show such as this, in which so many people have already memorized the lyrics, but muddied words slows down the storytelling — and you have to remember that there are at least a few neophytes in the audience.

Do I think this “Rocky” was as successful as last? No. But it certainly had its moments, and the audience had a blast. I think it has the potential to evolve into a great Fresno tradition.

Responses to "Did you go to ‘Rocky Horror’?"

MsJoey says:

I agree with you Donald about the choreography. It was distracting because it was a bit lackluster.
The sound was kinda bad but for the most part, it was a great show.
The audience interaction was the main attraction to me. My daughter, having never seen the movie really enjoyed it…what she could hear of it, that is.
All in all it was good and I would see it again in the future!
Thanks again!

bradley says:

Sound quality is absolutely (obviously) key for a musical. The Tower Theater’s house sound system is barely serviceable for the films shown there, and absolutely inadequate for any live theater.

My guess is many of the pitch problems would have been solved with stage monitors and an acceptable house system.

Stephen says:

This was obviously a struggle for Chavez, who clearly was hoping to re-create the intimacy and close relationship with the audience as he had in the Severance space, but to little avail.

He’d have done better to just accept that this was a proscenium show to a big crowd and just pumped up the size of the ensemble and made sure the choreography was big enough and tight enough to enthrall the back rows.

The sound was atrocious…I was sitting with three neophytes who had zero clue as to what was going on.

I was thrilled and amazed with three things:

1. The crowd size on both nights. WOW! At $28.50 a ticket!!

2. Executive Producer Gary Bufkin. An angel in the arts in Fresno is worth his/her weight in gold.

3. The chemistry and charisma of Chavez and Hal Bolen II. When the audience shouted en masse and Frank N Furter turned to us and purred “I know!” it was terrific.

I was a little bummed the lightning in a bottle from the Severance show wasn’t completely re-captured. Seeing Chavez as Frank from far away just isn’t as dazzling as seeing him up close doing those kicks. Seeing the actor playing Rocky rockin’ a slightly more non-muscular physique was “cheesy” fun, but nonsensical to my neophyte friends.

And much as I adore the designers, the set and drab lights left me dry.

But the biggest bummer of the night?

Where was the audience??? NOBODY in the aisles doing the Time Warp???? What kinda Rocky is THAT??

Thanks to Chavez et al for putting in the incredible amount of labor for just two shows, and I’m glad I could make it!

Tanya says:

I was there, and being a Rocky “virgin” (to the live show, anyways) I have to say I had a great time. It was the perfect way to bring in the New Year. I’ve read plenty about the props and shout-outs, and it was great to see that in play (I do agree, however, with Stephen above. NO ONE was doing the Time Warp!!! I really wanted to get up and do it, but I would have been the only one up in the front of the theater. It was nice that they played it again at the end). Again, this was my first time so I don’t have many criticisms, but I do agree the sound was a little sketchy at times, and towards the end it was really hard to hear Daniel (but you can tell he tried extra hard to belt out “I’m Going Home”, which was my favorite song/performance of the night). Overall, a FANTASTIC night, I truly hope this continues to play more frequently.

Also, kudos to the after party, all of the cast were INCREDEBLY NICE and a blast to dance with. PS, Thank you Alexis/Janet for pulling me out onto the dance floor during Bad Romance :)

Leslie Hoyt says:

I believe I got more than my money’s worth, had a great time, didn’t have to pay for parking which is one of the good things about Fresno, and really got a kick out of Jeremy Hitch’s version of Rocky. But…why in the world were people in their seats during the Time Warp? What is wrong with us, Fresno??? I stood up but soon sat down because I was blocking the view of all the seated people around me. You all have hips so put your hands on them and have a little fun next time (which I hope there is!)

MsJoey says:

Not true!! My friend Doris was doing the Time Warp in the aisle!!!

Was there with three friends on Sat. nite. (1) had seen the film, (1) was a Virgin; and (2) saw the musical in 1978.

YES! We all liked the production, very much. We didn’t love it, but we did like it.

We all agreed on these suggestions for the future:

a. Make stage entrance quicker, faster. Speed it up.
b. If you advertise to start @ 8 pm, 8:05 is fine, but not 8:25.
c. Instead of spending 30 minutes auctioning off three posters for approx. $50 each, just auction off the first one at approx. $50, and take the 2nd and 3rd bidders, too.

And, we all said we’d be back for NY Eve 2011. Even with the Tower Theatre’s $3.50 facility fee charged per ticket.

john coakley says:

Sad. Other than “janet” the singing was brutal. I brought a first – time Rocky goer and the comment she made was to compare the performance to a high school production. The high schools should be angry with that comment.

I’m so glad you had fun! Hate to see people standing on the sidelines when they so obviously need to be part of the action! :)