Doin’ the ‘Time Warp’ one last time
Chico Cabaret takes on Rocky Horror for seventh and final year
Chico, CA 95926
Chico Cabaret Executive and Artistic Director Phil Ruttenburg seems almost comforted by the organized chaos going on around him before a tech and dress rehearsal for Rocky Horror Live. People approach from all sides with questions to answer and problems to solve.
Megan Smith, who plays the sweet and naïve Janet Weiss, seeks and gets approval for a new dress, an above-the-knees but aptly conservative red garment; a stairway is not quite finished being constructed, so it’s quickly decided how Frank-N-Furter’s entrance will be altered; sound-tech director Kate Marsicola barks orders for a full-cast mic check; participatory audience phantoms practice their timing; and the “sweetest transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania,” Frank-N-Furter, played once again by Tony Varicelli, trots around with his trademark spiked blond hair, high heels and mostly bare buttocks on display.
All the while, an actor’s frisky dog trots around the theater and Rocky Horror soundtrack music in the background fights to be heard over the occasional shrill racket of a power saw backstage.
Somewhere along the line, Ruttenburg’s wife, Sue, also the Cabaret’s co-artistic director, delivers a foil-covered dinner plate to Phil that remains untouched.
Even with all the commotion, the group seems to have a handle on what it takes to hit the Cabaret’s most popular and consistently successful production out of the park once again. “We do a lot of shows here, but for me, this one show, it’s a ‘Rocky Horror’ family, and I really rely on the actors,” Ruttenburg said. “We’ve been doing it for so long.”
Indeed, Ruttenburg’s been here before. Six times to be exact. But this, the seventh year, is a crowning achievement, as the Cabaret has announced that this will be its final version of Rocky Horror Live.
At 7:30, everyone is magically in their places as the play begins, with this year’s opening number, “Science Fiction Double Feature,” presented with giant projected ruby red lips that move along to a pre-recorded version sung by Cabaret actress/vocalist Samantha Francis.
Each year’s Rocky Horror includes some new nuances, but this one feels really different from those of years past. The sorrow from the late-2008 death of Lars Logan, forever the Cabaret’s Riff Raff in Rocky, as well as an active member-at-large of the Chico performing arts community, still lingers with the entire Cabaret company—though plenty of good-time Logan memories also abound.
“We’re excited about this year’s Rocky because it’s a dedication to Lars,” Ruttenburg said. “We’re paying tribute to a friend and family member to many of us.”
Riff Raff’s big shoes are being amply filled by Butte College theater instructor and Cabaret Company Director Jeff Dickenson. Rather than put out the role for auditions, Dickenson was the obvious choice—that is, after it was decided that the show could go on at all.
“How can we do the show? Let’s not,” Ruttenburg recalled as the prevailing Cabaret opinion shortly after Logan’s passing. “But that quickly changed; he wouldn’t have wanted us not to do it.”
Dickenson is up for the challenge.
“I’ve done a lot of roles in my life, but I never got one this way,” he said, still feeling a bit of the pressure of following Logan. “I shaved my head to help show I’m not him. I can’t replace him; I’m just filling in.”
This year’s opening night of Rocky Horror had a unique celebratory ingredient as well, as certified minister Allen Lunde (who portrays Eddie, played by Meatloaf in the original movie) presided over an opening-night, real-life wedding of Ron Halvorson (Rocky’s Narrator) and friend-of-the-Cabaret Anne Murphy, with Varicelli, as Frank-N-Furter, and Stacy Sudicky, as Magenta, walking down the aisle with the bride and groom.
All of the hedonistic theatricality aside—including the all-star band directed by Jeffrey Childs, choreography and set design of Kate Ruttenburg, and flamboyant costumes by Alter Ego—Rocky Horror does have a story and message at its core.
“What people don’t realize is that it’s like a Greek tragedy,” said Phil Ruttenburg. “It’s a loss of innocence. Brad and Janet, the main characters, their car breaks down and they end up with these Transylvanians. By the end of the show, they are destroyed.”
For next year, the Ruttenburgs already have their sights on a new fall classic, which they expect to be Evil Dead: The Musical, based on Sam Raimi’s series of cult-horror films.
“Sue and I saw it off Broadway,” said Ruttenburg. “It’s an over-the-top horror show that would be fantastic for Halloween.”