Sex and … rock ‘n’ roll

Steamy rendition of Rocky Horror revisits Cabaret

ONLY AN ILLUSION Filling the roles of Phantom dancers in Chico Cabaret’s <i>The Rocky Horror Show</i>, Kelsi Fossum-Trausch (left) and Mary Shaffo meet at the pole for their close-up.

ONLY AN ILLUSION Filling the roles of Phantom dancers in Chico Cabaret’s The Rocky Horror Show, Kelsi Fossum-Trausch (left) and Mary Shaffo meet at the pole for their close-up.

Photo By Andy Rich

The Rocky Horror Show
Chico Cabaret
Thurs., Oct. 14
Shows Thurs.-Sat., 7:30 p.m. through Nov. 20; cast benefit, Wed., Oct. 27, 7:30p; midnight shows: Oct. 29 & 30 (doors at 11:15 p.m.)
Tickets: 895-0245;

Two women, wearing nothing but electrical-tape X’s over their nipples, boy shorts and heels, gracefully cartwheel onto stage and into handstands. Accompanied by a smoky-smooth live band, red lights and plenty of fog, the two slender dancers balance against poles flanking a raised, V-shaped catwalk/stage where a third woman is singing the words, “… at the midnight, double feature, picture show,” as she turns her back to the audience and removes her bra.

No, this isn’t a night at the strip club: It’s quality community theater.

Seeing the movie barely prepares you for this excellent, over-the-top showing of The Rocky Horror Show being put on by the Chico Cabaret. In what has become an annual Halloween tradition for the theater, director Phil Ruttenburg has assembled a seasoned crew of sex kittens, excellently costumed and well-developed characters, and of course the stellar Sweet Transvestite Band, for the third and final year of the Cabaret’s live presentation of this cult classic.

In fact, I would pay the price of admission just to catch this band, with Tim Koop romancing the keyboard, Komoki Bunting spanking his drums and Dave Elke, Nate LaFranchi and Greg D’Augelli getting everyone worked-up for the dance-along-fun of the “Time Warp.”

The Rocky Horror phenomenon has a long and twisted history, as explained to me over post-show champagne by Allen Lunde, who sings and dances his hot patootie off as the musical’s chainsaw-wielding Eddie (Lunde also plays the Narrator with neckless abandon).

When the campy movie version came out in 1971, it was so bad and so naughty that it gathered a kind of cult following. In 1975, the London cast of the musical Hair, led by Richard O’Brien, brought the Rocky Horror monster to life on the stage at the Belasco Theatre.

Local drama diva Lydia Taylor is credited with bringing this incarnation of the show to town. Having traveled through Europe playing Magenta with the European Rocky cast, Taylor had to retire from a brilliant stage career due to breast cancer, and she talked her friends the Ruttenburgs into putting on the show.

Jeff Dickenson, playing a sweaty, lustily singing Brad Majors this year (last year, he was rock-hard Rocky), shared that many of the key characters in the current production are seasoned in their roles. In addition, the Cabaret has added an excellent video element, plus new sound effects and a cleverly designed set, to this year’s show.

Titillating performances were given by the enchanting Allison Rich (who’s also the musical director) as the yummy Magenta and Tony Varicelli, who owned the stage (and his platform stilettos) as the fabulous Frank-N-Furter, both in their third years playing these roles.

In fact, the entire cast was impressive: Lars Logan, with his pinched nasally voice and thin, lanky physique, was born to play the creepy Riff-Raff; Vanessa Cerrarelli was Mickey Mouse Club fun with her squeaky voice and bouncy dance moves as Columbia; Don Eggert rolled (in his wheel chair, of course) with the mayhem as Dr. Scott; Zak Schulps flexed his way into the hearts (and pants) of everyone as Rocky; and Kim Mendes fleshed out the role of Janet Weiss nicely, with her innocent soprano voice and womanly curves.

I was there opening night, and the house was already full, with enthusiastic catcalls encouraged by vinyl-clad Phantoms with immaculate timing. I imagine that as this run continues, this already tight, sexy show will continue to evolve, just like the virgin Rocky, who emerges from the laboratory cocoon of Frank-N-Furter’s twisted transvestite castle in all his muscular glory.

Don your whole body fishnet (and bring five bucks for a bag o’ props) and head to the Chico Cabaret for a screamin’ good time.