Raising dead flesh

Energetic onstage version of Rocky Horror jolts the Chico Cabaret

Delightfully live Rocky Horror now playing at the Chico Cabaret.

Delightfully live Rocky Horror now playing at the Chico Cabaret.

Photo by Tom Angel

At the concessions counter, they’re serving hot dogs … frankfurters. Naturally. Or maybe one should say “supernaturally.” After all, the Chico Cabaret is presenting a production of Richard O’Brien’s delightful gender-bending monster mash, The Rocky Horror Show. And, as it happens, it’s a pretty fun-filled little entertainment.

Believe it or not, this rock musical about a 1950s-type couple getting its libido jacked up into the sexual stratosphere by a transvestite transsexual from Transylvania sauntering around in a black-leather corset and high heels has entered the consciousness of just about everyone 45 and under. Even those who have never seen the movie (of which this reviewer counts himself; it should be pointed out, however, that he has been subjected to so many retellings of the plot and singings of the songs in general that he practically knows the darned thing by heart). The Rocky Horror Picture Show, director Jim Sharman’s 1975 cinematic adaptation of O’Brien’s play, was a cult classic from the beginning. (I have distinct memories of my friends Tom and Donna coming back to Orland and raving about this crazy movie musical they had just witnessed at The Pageant Theatre in Chico; Tom, who played bass in my band at the time, couldn’t stop talking about this one rocker, “The Time Warp").

It should come as no surprise, then, that a local theater group is staging the live version—and just in time for Halloween.

Backed by a positively percolating band (guitarist Dave Elke, bassist Mike DiTrolio, saxophonist Kian McLaren, keyboardist Karl Iverson and drummer Komoki Bunting), well-choreographed (by Lydia Taylor and Nancy Willis), costumed accurately (Alter Ego) and set with enjoyable technical effects, Horror Show is a moveable feast of camp. It’s an explosion of orgone-laden lunacy that simultaneously salutes and sends up classic ‘30s and ‘40s horror conventions,'50s rock-'n'-roll clichés and ‘70s sex-lib contrivances, all in one deliriously gaudy package.

Lauren Taylor and Robert Conley, as the innocent Adam-and-Eve couple seduced into carnal wisdom, are enjoyably adequate. Conley is perhaps a bit stronger in his role; Taylor unfortunately had some mike problems opening night and was a bit difficult to hear. As Riff-Raff, Columbia and Magenta—Frank-n-furter’s household retinue—Lars Logan, Shannon Foy and Allison Rich deliver good work, Rich turning in the most energetic performances, especially during the dance numbers.

Marc Edson does a good job as the pseudo-sophisticated ("Where the @*%#'s your neck?") Narrator. Jeremiah Johnson is sufficiently menacing in a greasy-kids'-stuff sort of way as ‘50s throwback Eddie, Colin Scott is prurience personified as Frank-n-furter’s “self-made” man Rocky, and Don Eggert does a good turn as the hypocritical Doctor Scott, who hides a twisted secret of his own.

But the show belongs to the Frank-n-furter character (purportedly played to glee-filled perfection in the film by Tim Curry), and in casting actor Tony Varicelli director Phil Ruttenburg has done good. Varicelli’s singing voice isn’t the greatest, but he more than makes up for his limitations with unabashed exuberance. The only other actor who practically outshines Varicelli is Bethany Miller as the Belasco Popcorn Girl at the play’s beginning. Sans microphone, Miller belts out such a punchy rendition of “Science Fiction Double Feature” the audience is knocked out immediately.

And this version of “The Time Warp” is more fun than a corkscrew roller-coaster ride at Great America.

The show is not necessarily recommended for young viewers, although the humor is exactly what most 11-year-olds are exchanging in school yards all over America.

Go figure.