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25 Oct 2014

Just a Sweet Transvestite: College of the Desert's 'Rocky Horror' Will Leave You Dancing and Smiling

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Adam Genesta in College of the Desert's The Rocky Horror Show. Adam Genesta in College of the Desert's The Rocky Horror Show.

What in the world were Tres Dean and the rest of the people at College of the Desert Performing Arts thinking when they decided to produce The Rocky Horror Show—with a cast and crew primarily consisting of unseasoned college students?

After all, it’s a complex musical with a large cast, challenging songs and a whole lot of choreography. At the opening-night show, my concern was heightened when a student wearing a headset took the stage and announced that the show’s start would be delayed a bit due to “technical difficulties.”

Gulp.

Heck, the name of Rocky Horror’s writer, Richard O’Brien, is misspelled on the show’s promo poster and program cover, for crying out loud.

The prospects, as they say, were looking dim.

Time-warp two hours into the future, though, and I was smiling. So were the rest of the attendees of the sold-out show as they left COD’s Theatre Too—because these talented students and their teachers had pulled it off. In every way, College of the Desert’s Rocky Horror Show is a rollicking, risqué good time.

Many elements of the show—directed by Dean, the assistant professor of theater at COD—were beyond impressive. The amazingly complex set, with multiple stairs and platforms and even a pull-down diagram depicting how to do the “Time Warp,” would have made a large-budget professional company proud; hats off to J.W. Layne, the college’s technical specialist, who acted as the scenic and properties designer. The costumes by Kailey Osgood-McAuliffe were perfect. And the five-piece band, conducted by Scott Smith, was tight. Amazing stuff.

In his introductory remarks, Dean—who noted that this is the first musical being performed in COD’s Theatre Two space in more than a decade—said he’s been emphasizing a student-first philosophy when it comes to casting and producing plays at College of the Desert, and he was proud to announce that COD students constituted “95 percent” of the Rocky Horror cast. He must have been beaming with pride after seeing what he’s helped these students accomplish.

That’s not to say all of the performances in the show were flawless. Portions definitely had a community-theater feel, and there was a wide range of acting, dancing and singing proficiency displayed throughout the cast. However, if you’re coming to COD expecting a fully professional production like you’d find a short walk away at the McCallum Theatre, you need to get your expectations in check.

By far, the most fully realized performance came from Alden Dickey, who played our bespectacled, uptight, tighty-whitey-wearing hero, Brad. This COD student can act, and boy, can he sing. If you slipped him into a Rocky Horror performance on a pro stage in New York or L.A., he’d fit right in. Michael Hadley, one of the non-student ringers in the cast—although he’s a COD alumnus who works at the college—was splendid as Riff Raff, the put-upon servant of Dr. Frank-n-Furter who gets his revenge in the end.

In that plumb role of the good Dr. Frank, Adam Genesta did well, for the most part. He sounded, sang and moved (other than some awkwardness in high heels) like the Frank-n-Furter we all know and love, even if his facial expressions seemed somewhat random at times. While Alden Dickey as Brad threatened to steal the show thanks to his amazing pipes, Genesta took it back by leaving the audience in absolute stitches during the scene toward the end when Dr. Frank slowly, oh so slowly, loses his life.

Johnny Bolth overcame some initial nervousness and wound up shining as the pipe-smoking, stuffy narrator. Briana Taylor was perfectly cast as Janet—man, she’s gorgeous. She won over the audience, even if her singing wasn’t always up to par.

Alisha Bates and April Mejia were fun as Magenta and Columbia, respectively, and Christine Michele was good during her brief appearance as Eddie. Yes, you read that right: Eddie is played by a woman, an interesting casting choice by Dean that makes the sexual dynamics of Rocky Horror even stranger. Who knew that was even possible?

Fans of abs will enjoy Raz Segev as Frank-n-Furter’s masterpiece, Rocky. I am still trying to recover from the handstand/butt-flex moves he showed off during one of the musical numbers. Alma Johnson-Lacy was amusing in during her brief time onstage as Dr. Scott, even if her wig was a bit ridiculous.

Ramon Martinez, Sergio Lopez, Courtney Pittsley, Leslie Benjamin, Miranda Hane, Ronda Williams, Brieana Holguin, Tamani Ono and Rebecca Ann Rodriguez kept the energy going as the cast’s Transylvanians and Phantoms, thanks in part to excellent choreography by Shea New.

If you’re a fan of this legendary show, by all means, go, and support the amazing College of the Desert talent that’s on display. By the time the cast concludes with an encore of “The Time Warp,” you’ll be beaming from ear to ear.

The Rocky Horror Show is performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 3 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Nov. 2; there’s also a midnight show on Halloween. It takes place at Theatre Too at College of the Desert, 43500 Monterey Ave., in Palm Desert. Tickets are $30 general, with discounts for students, COD staff and seniors. For tickets or more information, call 760-773-2565, or visit collegeofthedesert.edu/performingarts.

2 comments

  • Comment Link Jimmy Boegle Thursday, 30 October 2014 11:59 posted by Jimmy Boegle

    Thanks for the comment, Anonymous. I encourage you to go back and actually read the review, where you'll find that we actually agree on most points--and that I indeed loved the show.

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  • Comment Link Anonymous Wednesday, 29 October 2014 16:19 posted by Anonymous

    I'm not sure what this guy was thinking when he wrote this review. Sounds bipolar and extremely untruthful. There were some technical difficulties opening night and had he gone to any of the other nights he'd understand the amazing talent of the whole cast. I am so glad Tres Dean and College of the Desert decided to bring this musical to life in such an intimate space, the actors both leads and ensemble interacted with the crowd and seduced anyone with the iconic lipstick "V" on their forehead.

    Adam Genesta rocks the stage and entices the audience with his humor and powerful voice and certainly takes the show in his hands. Alden Dickey is a splendid singer and really brings the modest a**hole secret hero into a hilarious light. Briana Taylor does an amazing job of transforming the prudish Janet Weiss into a sexy all out female lead. Michael Hadley of course never fails at bringing any character he is given to life, Riff Raff being no exception as he creepily fills the stage with his personality. April Mejia is a striking happy go lucky Colombia who gets her heart broken too many times and interacts extremely well with Magenta who is played by Alisha Bates who fills the theatre with her power house voice.

    Alma Johnson-lacy did a great job as Evelynn Von Scott, a gender switch, which made no difference and got plenty of laughter from the audience. Christine Potenza played the late great rebellious experiment Eddie and rocked the stage during the number "Hot Patootie", no one seemed to mind this gender switch, which they also did on Broadway.

    The phantoms and ensemble did an outstanding job of getting the audience flustered and wriggling in their seats with smiles and laughter during many of the musical numbers! If you want to enjoy Rocky Horror in an intimate venue and find yourself singing and dancing your way out after the show is done then College of the Desert's rendition is the place to be.

    I guarantee "One hell of a good time!"

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