Produced by: San Jose Stage Company
Directed by: Allison F. Rich
Choreographed by: Tracey Shaw
Vocal arrangements by: Allison F. Rich
Stage manager: Michael Truman Cavanaugh
Assistant stage manager: Justin Buchs
Featuring: Keith Pinto, Allison F. Rich, Parker Harris, Ashley Garlick, Edward Hightower, Sean Okuniewicz, Jill Miller, Matthew Kropschot, Will Springhorn Jr., Tracey Shaw, Monica Moe, Brian Conway
Band: Francisco Hernandez, guitar; Nick Perez, keyboard and conductor; Anthony Pickard, saxophone; Jeremy Pollett, bass; Lane Sanders, drums Running time: 100 minutes, one intermission
When: October 2-November 3, 2019
Where: San Jose Stage Company, 490 South 1st Street, San Jose
Tickets: $32-$60; call408-283-7142 or vist www.thestage.org.
Keith Pinto: Read an interview with him about performing as Dr. Frank-N-Furter.
I really love that Rock and Roll'
I wasn’t going to review “Rocky Horror Show” at San Jose Stage, because I’d already written a popularly received story about it, and its star, Keith Pinto, and thought that would be enough.
But then I went to the show, on opening night, was completely blown away by its excellence and how fun it is, and so here I am, writing a review!
Because I really want you — and anybody else who loves comedy and rock music — to go see this show.
The Stage has done a magnificent job with “Rocky.”
The cast is excellent, led by Pinto, who is every bit as fabulous as Dr. Frank-N-Furter as we all thought he would be. His entrance — strutting on five-inch heels — is poorly blocked, as he is initially hidden by some of the wild choreography of the song “Time Warp,” but he quickly takes charge of the stage, singing “Sweet Tranvestite.”
He’s powerful, and quite properly stuns Brad and Janet, the straight couple who have wandered by mistake into Frank-N-Furter’s Mad Scientist Castle.
You know the plot, not that it matters? It’s Richard O’Brien’s tribute to old science-fiction movies, the kind of stuff most of us have seen in re-runs on television. The song “Science Fiction / Double Feature” is a lovely ballad of tribute to those old films. Scenes from some of them are projected above the stage as director, vocal director and star Allison F. Rich, as an Usherette, does a great job singing that song.
Brad, played with square-glasses manly confidence by Parker Harris, and Janet, played with 1950s conservatism by pink-dressed Ashley Garlick, are stranded in a rain storm, and look for shelter and a phone in a creepy old castle.
They are shocked by the hyper-weird denizens of the castle, who all stomp and dance around in five-inch heels while dressed in bustiers and other underwear.
Brad keeps trying to be manly, and Janet continues to be shocked — but intrigued.
It’s a special night in the castle, because Frank-N-Furter is going to release Rocky, the latest man he has created in his mad-scientist laboratory. Matthew Kropschot, a recent graduate of nearby San Jose State University, shows up in very little clothing and a lot of very cut muscles, as Rocky. Frank and some of the women nearly swoon.
Will Springhorn Jr. shows up as an earlier custom-made man, and sings one of the show’s better songs: “Hot patootie, bless my soul / I really love that Rock and Roll!” Springhorn also plays the wheelchair-bound Dr. Scott, who has something to hide under the blanket covering his legs.
Well. There is a lot of sexuality, in many varieties, and some people think this show, which emerged in 1973, was popular because it released a lot of previously repressed desires. After all, one of the prettiest ballads urges, "Don't Dream It – Be It."
But I think the show works because it is great, rock ’n’ roll fun.
“It’s just a jump to the left / Then a step to the right / With your hands on your hips / You bring your knees in tight / But it’s the pelvic thrust that really drives you insane”
That’s the refrain from the song "Time Warp," and on opening night, dozens of fans of the show stood up in the audience to dance and sing along with it. Fun.
The audience, in fact, was a huge part of the show. “Rocky” fans are used to the film version, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” where over the years many goofy traditions have been established — “climbing” up the narrator’s necktie as the camera zooms in, shouting rude names at Brad and Janet, throwing slices of bread and playing cards — but the film never changes. It cannot respond to the audience.
In a live show, interaction is possible, although for the most part, the fourth wall is maintained, albeit in a rather crumbly state.
All these wonderful actors work their way through the story, while the audience is shouting and applauding and carrying on like a riot. It makes it a big, organic monster of a show.
Edward Hightower is excellent as the narrator, sternly lecturing the audience with the story of these strange creatures from Transexual Transylvania — but when he delicately but clearly reacted to something funny from the audience, everybody went wild with it, and his appearances through the show became even more fun. Way more fun than Charles Gray’s capable appearances in the film version. Hightower played with the audience, batting the wit back and forth, even if just with his eyes.
My favorite bit from the audience — from among many, many funny lines — was when Brad, stunned by the craziness and obvious kinkiness of the castle, said, “What sort of place is this?” and someone in the audience shouted, “Mar-a-Lago!”
Rich, who has become as important to The Stage as, say, the air we breathe, did a great job as director (except maybe for the way Rocky’s entrance was blocked) and as vocal arranger. And best of all, she was brilliant as an actor, totally committed to the role in her every movement. She was a delight to watch as Magenta, the psycho sister to her psycho brother, Riff Raff, who was brilliantly played by Sean Okuniewicz.
I’ve seen both Rich and Okuniewicz in lots of shows, but I’ve never seen more committed, more magnetic and commanding performances from either of them. They are both fabulous to watch.
Which is a tribute to Rich’s continued growth and ability as a director.
And, speaking of people who really make this show work, let us have a round of applause for Ashley Garlick, who is a beautiful Janet, with a great voice, and who also created the amazing costumes, makeup and wigs for the cast. That this show is magnificent owes an enormous amount to Garlick. What she did to Rich’s wig is hilarious — did she steal it from the wig room for “Planet of the Apes”? — and she put Manson Lenses (white with a black outline) in the eyes of Pinto, Rich and Okuniewicz, which gave them an even more other-world look. And the raccoon eyes makeup for the Phantoms — Brian Conway, Tracey Freeman-Shaw (also the dance captain) and Monica Moe — made them look a little creepy and a lot sexy.
Pinto, who can do anything, was delightful throughout as Dr. Frank-N-Furter. He had the overt, over-the-top sexuality for “Sweet Transvestite,” and beautifully crooned the ballad “I’m Going Home.”
An excellent cast danced and sang to music proved by an excellent band — conductor and keyboards player Nick Perez, guitarist Francisco Hernandez, Saxophonist Anthony Pickard, bass player Jeremy Pollett, and drummer Lane Sanders.
I very much liked the Phantoms, who serve, in a way, as audience avatars, and also add to the great choral singing of the ensemble. Hats off to Monica Moe, Brian Conway and Tracey Freeman-Shaw. Freeman-Shaw also choreographed, and did a great job, because the dancing is wild, muscular and a blast to watch.
Kudos, also, to scenic designer Robert Pickering, lighting designer Michael Palumbo, and sound designer Steve Schoenbeck, who did a great job; the sound was good throughout the show.