By Donalevan Maines
Fans of The Rocky Horror Picture Show must be shivering with “antici . . . pation” for this month’s stage production of Richard O’Brien’s 1973 camp cult phenomenon at Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS).
The tension rockets as TUTS plays peek-a-boo with its Rocky, the muscle-bound “man with blond hair and a tan” that cross-dressing mad scientist Dr. Frank ’n’ Furter has on a slab in his lab(oratory).
Mason Butler, the young actor playing Rocky, is being kept closely under wraps, hidden away from roving reporters such as I. “Wait and see,” teases Jeff Knaggs, the out hair and makeup designer at TUTS since February 2015. “Rocky is going to be tasty. He’s very good-looking—exactly what you’re hoping for, and more.”
As reporters on Eyewitness News confide, “I can tell you” that Butler has played Rocky before, in a production at Sam Houston State University (SHSU), where he was set to graduate this year with a bachelor of fine arts degree in musical theater.
At SHSU, Butler also portrayed Jester in The Arabian Nights and accompanied Pseudolus in “Comedy Tonight” in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, also playing a chorister slave, citizen, soldier, and eunuch. And we saw him last winter at Stages Repertory Theatre, serving a performance internship in the ensemble of Panto Snow Queen: Unfrozen.
A native of Leonard, Texas (in Fannin County, northeast of Dallas), Butler also turned heads at the Oklahoma Shakespearean Festival as studly, smooth “UPS Kyle the Magnificent” in Legally Blonde: The Musical (his character enters with the suggestive line, “Hi, I’ve got a package”), in addition to Brick Pig in Shrek, the Musical and Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
TUTS is more forthcoming with what’s up with out entertainer Pierre Alexandre as Dr. Frank ’n’ Furter. “Our idea is for him to be very androgynous,” says Knaggs. “His style icons would be David Bowie, Marlene Dietrich, and Grace Jones. Pierre is a very beautiful, tall black man with a really resonant, booming voice.”
Along with costume designer Collen Grady, out director Mitchell Greco, and choreographer Kristin Warren, says Knaggs, “We are putting our own spin on it. We are trying to keep him far, far away from the movie,” referring to 1975’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which starred Tim Curry as Frank ’n’ Furter.
Knaggs grew up enjoying the movie at midnight screenings in California, before he made it to Broadway and worked with Curry on Spamalot. “I pretty much geeked out when I met him,” says Knaggs. “I didn’t know what to say to him. He is a huge star to me.”
Knaggs was a thespian in high school, but he also edited the yearbook, played football, and ran track. Next, he earned a 1993 Bachelor of Arts degree in both costume design and performance at California State University, Chico, while also studying cosmetology. (Chico is the hometown of handsome NFL bachelor quarterback Aaron Rodgers.)
“At six, I knew how to do hair,” says Knaggs. “I don’t know how I did, but I did.” He segued from hair to wigs after realizing that “a wig doesn’t talk back” and deciding to hone his skills in that direction.
A baritone, Knaggs sang for two years with an opera company in San Francisco before moving to New York City, where he moved up from a hair and makeup gig with the off-Broadway show Forbidden Broadway to Les Misérables on the Great White Way, followed by Spamalot, The Woman in White, Beauty and the Beast, Dracula, Movin’ Out, 42nd Street, and The Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
Regionally and across the nation, Knaggs was the production supervisor on both Mamma Mia and Young Frankenstein and a journeyman hair and makeup artist on productions of Peepshow, Kinky Boots, and The Little Mermaid. He has also worked on contestants and/or professionals from TV’s Dancing with the Stars and America’s Got Talent who appeared in Las Vegas and/or cruise ship performances.
Knaggs and his husband, Thom Culcasi, moved to Houston last year, with Culcasi, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, recently becoming the middle-school choir director at The Kinkaid School. The couple also bought a home this month in the Briarforest/Ashford Park area near Culcasi’s school.
Among the cast of the TUTS production of The Rocky Horror Show are Susan Koozin as the Narrator, Adam Gibbs (Riff Raff), Scott Harrison (Brad), Connor Lyon (Janet), Madison Turner (Columbia), Erin Wasmund (Magenta), Ryan Patrick Smith (Eddie/Dr. Scott), and Brittany Halen, Michael Sylvester, Ragan Richardson, Ashley Lee, Steven Boyd Baker, and Andrew Carson as Phantoms.
Out music director Stephen Jones also joins the “Time Warp,” along with sound designer Andrew Harper, lighting designer Christina Giannelli, and scenic designer Ryan McGettigan.
To capitalize on The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s legendary audience-participation element, TUTS will sell special bags of props prior to each performance. Visit tuts.com to learn more.
What: The Rocky Horror Show
When: November 8–20
Where: The Hobby Center, 800 Bagby Street
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.