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.