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Review: Dammit, Janet, why only 2 performances of Selma Arts Center’s ‘Rocky Horror’?

THEATER REVIEW

Five Great Things about the Selma Arts Center limited-run production of “The Rocky Horror Show,” which continues through Saturday (well, early Sunday):

1.

Terry Lewis as Dr. Frank N Furter.

Come on, all you T.L. fans — you know you’ve always wanted to hear him sing “Sweet Transvestite,” right? From the moment he makes his grand entrance, Lewis is a haughty, husky-voiced delight. (Sure, it’s a little weird to see him coming out of what was essentially a crematorium in “Sweeney Todd” — the set is repurposed from that recent production — but I got over that pretty quickly.)

Pictured above: Terry Lewis is Top Hot Dog (which is a lot cooler than just being a Top Dog). Photo: Selma Arts Center

Lewis gets dolled up for the role, but not in a frilly or feminine way: His glittery red lipstick is caked on so thick it could double as highway reflector paint, and his stark, brunette curls and string of pearls suggest a dash of Shirley Temple added to a heaping helping of Bette Davis. My favorite moment in Friday’s opening night performance: At the end of a rousing, vocally lush “I’m Going Home,” Lewis tugged up his tight black corset and then gave the tiniest of smirks, as if to say, “And I’m traveling first class, suckahs …”

2.

The choreography.

Michael C. Flores, who also directed the show, puts together some stellar moves for the Phantoms and Transylvanians, whether they’re bopping to the beat or lunging and writhing on the floor. (Much of their movements occur just a few feet from the audience.) I’ll go ahead and give a shout-out to the ensemble, each and every one of whom brings a crisp (and distinctive) characterization to their roles while being very well in sync with each other: Marissa Brandon, Jacquie Broach, Ben Deghand, Alina Gonzalez, Damen Pardo, Julia Prieto, and Flores.

3.

The singing and the live band.

One of the things that surprised me years ago when listening to the Broadway recording of “Rocky” is just how lush and beautiful the arrangements are, and this Selma cast really delivers under the vocal direction of Tim Fletcher. (“I’m Going Home” just soars.) And while there were some sound issues in terms of feedback, the fine live band (directed by Matthew Smoke) only rarely overpowered the singers. Having live musicians gives “Rocky” that extra sparkle.

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4.

The performances.

All are pretty strong. Standouts are Daniel LaJune’s high-strung Brad, Emma DenBesten’s perky Janet, and Aaron Pierce’s volatile Eddie. Plus: Dakota Simpson gets a nod for provoking a yelp from the woman sitting next to me after he made a certain obscene hand gesture within the confines of Dr. Scott’s wheelchair. To shock someone in “Rocky Horror” (who hasn’t already left in the first 15 minutes) is an accomplishment.

5.

The audience.

This “Rocky” production wasn’t much on the traditional audience props (newspapers held over the head, toilet paper, etc.), which was fine with me because such actions can start to feel rote for “Rocky”-goers. But there were great shout-outs from the audience as they anticipated and commented upon the oft-spoken “Rocky” lines. To the woman who promulgated the loud and colorfully stated comment on the possibility of moisture on her seat, I say: You get the comic-timing award of the night.

Were there a few less than amazing moments in this production? Sure. I don’t think putting the Frank N Furter dual love scenes with Brad and Janet on video rather than performing them live works all that well. As I already stated, the sound design struggled at times. And the direction at the end of the show felt a little clunky and awkward, letting some of the built-up energy dissipate before the “Time Warp” reprise got the crowd on its feet. (I ended up attempting to jump to the left with the director, and at least I managed not to break a hip.)

But for a limited-run with only two performances, I’m impressed with the strength of this production.

Alas, tonight’s big costume ball and performance finale is sold out. What a horror. Perhaps Selma Arts Center would consider extending the run for a Halloween show?



 

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

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