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'Rocky Horror' a ton of vigorous fun

by Donald Munro
The Fresno Bee, October 29, 2012

“Rocky” still rocks.

Daniel Chavez Jr. does it again — and then some — with his smart, tart revival of Artists’ Repertory Theater’s “The Rocky Horror Show” at the Severance Theatre. With a production design a couple of notches higher up on the sophistication ladder from Chavez’s last go-around in 2009 with “Rocky,” an improved quality of overall vocals, and an energy level so elevated that if it were a pulse it’d be in heart-attack territory, this vibrant new production is a stellar experience.

Janet (Alexis Garriott), Brad (Bryce Moser), Riff Raff (Brian Pucheu), Frank N. Furter (Daniel Chavez Jr.), Rocky (Javier Padilla), Magenta (Kat Dorian), Columbia (Chelsea Harper).
Even before the official downbeat, the enthusiasm in the theater is palpable. Various “Phantoms” — the show’s hard-working ensemble — cavort in the Severance Theatre space, dancing and singing, enticing audience members into the mix. By the time the spiffy band (a ragin’ Nate Butler, Tim Pugsley, John Shafer, Rick Wood and Tweed Jefferson) kick things off with “Science Fiction Double Feature,” the stage is set for a vigorously fun “Rocky” experience.

My only big reservation after Friday’s opening-night performance, was alas, something I often am concerned about in the Severance space: the sound. There has to be some way to tone the volume of the percussion down. This may be a rock ‘n’ roll show, yes, but it’s also a musical, and you can’t drown out the lyrics of some songs (and even some of the other instruments) without things sounding like mush.

Still, one major thing “The Rocky Horror Show” has going for it is that most people are familiar with the storyline and don’t necessarily need to follow every nuance of “Hot Patootie,” for example. And the cast is so highly enthused that even when the individual vocals get swamped, the energy level saves the day.

Chavez, who directs and choreographs the show and designed the costumes — and plays the pivotal role of mad scientist Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter — knows “Rocky Horror” so well that nearly every moment plays out with the crispness of someone who knows every square centimeter of the material. Sometimes it’s the smallest details that have the most impact. During “The Time Warp,” for example, my eye was caught, for no particular reason, by three hilarious moments, all involving Phantoms: Hayley Galbraith pawing at her face; Chris Campbell attempting a near version of the splits; Isaac Ellis dragging an audience member onto the floor and bumping and grinding with her. I’m sure I’d see equally amusing things on a second viewing. It’s that texture and depth that somehow resonates in this production — all in a show so silly that you’d have to be seriously depressed not to crack a grin.

I love the new costumes, which Chavez envisions as a “steam punk” aesthetic. From the gorgeous aqua-and-blue fringed flapper look of a tap-dancing Columbia (a wonderful Chelsea Harper) to the vinyl pink and black top (looking like a cross between a letterman jacket and radiation suit) worn by Dr. Scott (a hilarious Lilly Dale Murray), the costumes are brilliantly conceived. (If there were the equivalent of Tony awards in Fresno, by the way, I’d consider nominating one of Murray’s fingers — you can guess which one — which gets a crooked starring role of its own.)

Bryce Moser gives us commanding vocals and a brisk nerdiness as Brad, while Alexis Garriott rounds out the hapless couple with a charged, sexy performance as Janet. Katharine Dorian is a strong Magenta, and Brian Pucheu’s golden voice combines with surly precision as the hard-edged Riff Raff.

Javier Padilla doesn’t have a strong voice, but his characterization of Rocky — manufactured by Frank ‘N’ Furter to serve as his love slave — is a buffed-out scream. His gymnastic Rocky is at once enamored of and afraid of Frank ‘N’ Furter, but also a little disdainful, and Padilla’s take on the character really adds another texture to the show that I hadn’t seen before.

And then there’s Chavez himself, who inhabits his role with the crusty-haughty demeanor of privileged nobility. From his show-stopping “Sweet Transvestite” to his poignant “I’m Going Home,” Chavez creates a bizarre character whom you can’t help loathe but also root for at the same time. At the same time, the production itself seems infused with Chavez’s singular vision (if only we could get the sound better balanced), and it just seems to be getting better as it ages. That’s what I call one impressive hot dog.

Get tickets to A.R.T.'s Production of "The Rocky Horror Show"

Read the Kings River Life Magazine review by Lorie Lewis Ham

Let's do 'Rocky Horror' again: Fresno stage show returns

by Donald Munro
The Fresno Beehive, October 25, 2012

Give me an R!

Seasoned veterans of "The Rocky Horror Show" know where this one's going.

Fresno audiences get a double whammy of the cult favorite this weekend. The Artists' Repertory Theatre stage production returns Friday after a four-year absence to the Severance Theatre at California Arts Academy for a five-weekend run (plus special Halloween performance). And the Warnors Theatre is offering a Saturday midnight screening of the beloved 1975 film, complete with a list of items that can be utilized as props by audience members. (For the record, no toast or rice allowed.)

Here's a rundown of "Rocky" fever:

Cast members of "The Rocky Horror Show," staged at Fresno's Severance Theatre, from left, Alexis Garriott as Janet, Bryce Moser as Brad, Katharine Dorian as Magenta, Chelsea Harper as Columbia, Javier Padilla as Rocky and Daniel Chavez Jr. as Frank 'N' Furter.

What's it all about? Though much of the population has experienced "The Time Warp," there are some neophytes out there unfamiliar with the wacky plot involving a hapless couple, Brad and Janet, who get caught in a storm and stumble into the home of a mad-scientist transvestite building a muscle man named Rocky Horror.

The return to Severance: Daniel Chavez Jr., whose enthusiasm for the stage production makes him sort of the Fresno area's biggest "Rocky" evangelist, will reprise his dual roles playing the lead role of towering Transylvanian transvestite Frank 'N' Furter and directing the show. This will be Chavez's third time around being a hot dog, having starred in the 2008 Severance production and a 2009 version staged at the Tower Theatre.


The production: "We've decided to give it a little makeover," Chavez says. The 2008 production had an '80s grunge feel, which has been updated to "steam punk." (Think Victorian era meets modern vampire -- more sensual than sexual.)

Other changes: The size of the cast, with the contingent of Phantoms doubled in size from seven to 14.

Audience participation: Chavez is redoubling his efforts to draw the audience into the experience. This is a show in which it's traditional for the audience to throw toilet paper when "Dr. Scott" makes his entrance, after all. "When it comes to 'Rocky Horror,' there really is no inappropriate," Chavez says. "People can stand up and yell, they can throw things, they can respond to the actors."

The props: Goodie bags (available for $5) are key to audience participation. The bags will include noisemakers (blown at Rocky's creation), gloves (snapped in time with Frank 'N' Furter), newspapers (held over one's head during the rain storm), glow sticks (waved during the song "Over at the Frankenstein Place") playing cards (thrown during the song "I'm Going Home") and confetti poppers (used during the wedding scene). For safety reasons, no outside props will be allowed.

The movie: In an example of stage-screen synergy, the cast of the local musical will lead the pre-show festivities at the movie screening. The party begins at 10:30 p.m. Saturday and the live pre-show, including a costume contest, at 11:30 p.m. at the Warnors. Props will be on sale; only approved items allowed.

Show info: "The Rocky Horror Show," Friday-Nov. 24. Severance Theatre, 1401 N. Wishon Ave., (559) 222-6539.

$22 advance, $30 at door (Halloween $30.) Rated R (minors must be accompanied by adult.)

Go to for more from star and director Daniel Chavez Jr. (or just scroll down and read it below!)

A chat with Fresno’s most flexible hot dog
by Donald Munro
The Fresno Beehive, October 25, 2012

We had a great time last Friday in The Bee’s photo studio preparing our big cover-story package on the opening of “The Rocky Horror Show” in tomorrow’s issue of 7. For the shoot, we had (appropriately enough) seven of the leading cast members show up in full “Rocky” regalia. (Or, in the case of Rocky himself, a costume that can be measured in mere square inches of fabric.)

Because of our fancy photo treatment of “Rocky Horror” in 7, I didn’t have enough space to go into all the details I would have liked after talking with Daniel Chavez Jr., who is both director and the leading character of Frank ‘N’ Furter. So consider this post an addition to my 7 story.

Daniel Chavez Jr. as Frank 'N' Furter in "The Rocky Horror Show "
See more photos of The "Rocky Horror Show" cast here! [Courtesy of Royally Beautiful Photo]

The look of the show: Chavez’s “steam punk” aesthetic will best be seen in the costumes, which have been completely redone from the 2008 Severance Theatre production. An example: the Phantoms four years ago wore leather corsets and fishnet stockings. The updated look replaces the leather with satin brocade and adds peasant blouses, garters, hose, puffy sleeves and ruffles. “I kind of feel like my tastes have refined,” Chavez says. “We’re taking it away from the whole garage-band grunge look.”

Other changes: Along with the expanded cast of Phantoms, this new “Rocky” features some new set pieces. Chavez has also added some new dance breaks to songs. And one of his big numbers gets a makeover. “I’ve tried to turn “Sweet Transvestite” into more of a burlesque kind of number,” he says. “In this case the costume just gets smaller and smaller.”

The cast: Four cast members are returning to their original roles played in all three incarnations of “Rocky Horror.” (Besides the 2008 Severance production, there was a 2009 version at the Tower Theatre.) They are: Hal Bolen as The Narrator, Alexis Garriott as Janet, Diane Engel as a Phantom and Chavez as Frank ‘N’ Furter. A couple of returning cast members have switched roles: Murphy (who played a Phantom and Magenta and now plays Dr. Scott) Scott), Katharine Dorian (who played Columbia and now plays Magenta), Brian Pucheu (who played a Phantom and now plays Riff Raff) and Jeremy Hitch (who played Rocky and now plays Eddie). Rounding out the principal cast are Bryce Moser as Brad, Chelsea Harper as Magenta and Javier Padilla as Rocky. (Plus a whole bunch of Phantoms.)

On a personal note: It’s obvious that Chavez LOVES this show, and he takes the chance to perform the role quite seriously. In the time since the Tower Theatre production in 2009, he’d put on some weight, so he started losing weight slowly and surely, and he took off 45 pounds. “I eat responsibly, I work out a lot, and I teach dance,” he says. “I didn’t go on a crash diet.” Chavez is also aware that a role like this takes a lot out of a body. He’s not necessarily saying this will be his very last time as Frank ‘N’ Furter, but he’s getting older.”This third time around, I’m hitting 40 soon, and I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to wear leather and kick my face and feel good about it,” he says.

The production’s future: The show has been designed this time around to go up and down very quickly, which gives it some flexibility in terms of scheduling. If ticket sales go really well, the theater company will consider bringing it back for an encore, probably a few weeks after the official closing date of Nov. 24. Even more ambitiously, Chavez would love for Fresno to embrace the show so thoroughly that he could bring it back a few times a year for a weekend — thus making it into a local nightlife tradition. “It’s a lot more fun going to this show than going to a bar,” he says. “Let’s make it a destination!”

Show info: "The Rocky Horror Show," Friday-Nov. 24. Severance Theatre, 1401 N. Wishon Ave., (559) 222-6539.
$22 advance, $30 at door (Halloween $30.) Rated R (minors must be accompanied by adult.)

Get tickets to A.R.T.'s Production of "The Rocky Horror Show"

Read the Kings River Life Magazine review by Lorie Lewis Ham

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