This story is part of the CN&R Fall Arts special issue.
In decades past, Halloween had a more fleeting presence in America, appearing for one exciting moment before vanishing just as quickly … like a ghost. The holiday’s primary celebrants then were children and, with rare exceptions, the spooky and sexy ratings were predominantly PG.
Now, like Christmas, the Halloween season has expanded. When September starts, spooky store displays go up, streaming services launch their countdowns to Halloween collections, and the ghosts and goblin decorations start to appear. Adults now join in the fun without shame, and hedonism of all sorts is not just embraced but encouraged.
We at the CN&R fully support this cultural shift toward fun for all. In fact, these days, between private parties and public events there’s almost too much happening throughout the month. Here are a few of the scary fun events that we’re excited about, and which lean toward the steamy side of spooky.
Legacy Stage will bring Lizzie: The Musical—a rock-’n’-roll retelling of the legend of America’s favorite alleged axe murderess—to The Barn at Meriam Park for one extended weekend this month (Oct. 18-22). It’s a significant step away from the troupe’s best-known work to date—the Shakespeare productions in Bidwell Park—and its first full-fledged musical, as well as the first theatrical production to be staged at the The Barn.
The play features a four-woman ensemble cast made up of local theater luminaries Ashiah Bird, Kellen Staub, Alyssa Jade and Sierra Hall (playing the titular role) backed by a full, live rock band.
“All four of them could just stand there and sing with no music, staging or blocking and it would still be worth seeing,” said Lara Tenckhoff, a Legacy Stage co-founder and Lizzie’s director.
“It’s very punk rock and contemporary,” Tenckhoff continued. “It’s a long way from Rodgers and Hammerstein and definitely not a ‘Golden Age’-style musical. The songs are so good and something you’d hear on the radio today.”
Lizzie: The Musical was written by Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Tim Maner and Alan Stevens Hewitt, and was first produced in 2009. It tells the story of the 1892 murders of Andrew Jackson Borden and Abby Durfee Gray (the main character’s father and step-mother) in Fall River, Mass. The trial was one of the first to capture the nation’s public interest and Lizzie Borden remains a legendary name in American crime annals, even though she was ultimately acquitted of the killings.
Historical context aside, Tenckhoff said audience members shouldn’t expect a period piece: “There won’t be any Victorian-style dresses,” she said. This is a very old story told in a very new way.”
Lizzie: The Musical shows Oct. 18-22, 7:30pm, at the Barn at Meriam Park (1930 Market Place). Tickets: $25.
Halloween hijinks are woven into the fabric of burlesque troupe Hypnotique Productions. Founder Kelsi Judge was so encouraged by the positive response to a one-off extravaganza she organized in October 2021 (The Trinity Cabaret at Oroville’s Union bar and grill) that she started the Hypnotique troupe, which dazzled audiences at Mulberry Station Brewing Co. last year with the sexy horror show Nightmare on Mulberry Street.
This year, Hypnotique will be performing an original murder mystery, written by Judge, called Stiletto: A Soirée to Die For.
The show will feature 13 dancers and a full live band performing contemporary hits and classics woven into the storyline and will be performed at the Mulberry venue Oct. 5-7 and 11-14. Judge said the action takes place at a party in the 1920s, during Prohibition, and features a rogues’ gallery of disreputable characters: a madame and her ladies, a crooked politician, a bootlegger and more.
“They’re all seedy, wealthy, narcissistic people who are all out for themselves,” Judge said.
Judge said it was both fun and challenging to write an engaging murder mystery, an idea that was put forth by one of the other cast members and accomplished in a relatively short amount of time.
“Most shows like this are workshopped for a whole year, but I wrote it and we put the whole thing together in just three months,” she said, adding that her early drafts were heavily smoothed over during production, with input from the entire troupe. “As challenging as it’s been it’s also been kind of a dream working with so many talented people and changing things as we went along.”
Though titillating dance numbers are central to the performance, Judge hopes people are also drawn in by the story: “We really want to make the audience wonder [whodunit]. I think it will definitely keep people guessing.”
Stiletto: A Soirée to Die For shows Oct. 5-7 & Oct. 11-14, 8pm, at Mulberry Station Brewing Co. (175 E. 20th St., Ste. 10). Tickets: $32/advance; $40/door (except Oct. 11—cash-only, $10-$20 sliding scale at door).
Chico has a long history with the Rocky Horror Show. For years, the now defunct Chico Cabaret did annual live productions of the beloved cult classic, and later the Maltese Tap Room offered showings of the cinematic version—The Rocky Horror Picture Show—of the story of two squares who become stranded and lose their innocence at the wild mansion of transvestite scientist Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Those venues are unfortunately gone, but Oroville’s Birdcage Theatre is picking up the mantle this year.
“It’s one of the shows on everyone’s bucket list [to perform in],” said Jennifer Beers, president of the Birdcage’s board of directors, who will also be filling the role of Janet Weiss in the rock-’n’-roll musical. Beers said the decision to stage Rocky was partly inspired by the company’s success with last year’s Halloween season outing, Evil Dead The Musical.
“We sold out every one of the Evil Dead shows and people loved it,” she said of the production directed by James Huie, who is also directing The Rocky Horror Show.
Also as it did for Evil Dead, the troupe is partnering with the 600-seat Oroville State Theatre to stage this production on a bigger stage. Beers said pre-sale tickets for the play, which runs October 27-29 and Nov 2, 4, and 5, are already moving briskly.
“Be prepared!” Beers said when asked what attendees should know beforehand. “There’s lots of adult content, people calling back [at the stage while] in costume. There will be drinks and prop bags available. It’s gonna be a party.”
The Rocky Horror Show shows Oct. 27-28, Nov. 2 & 4, 7:30pm, with matinees Oct. 29 & Nov. 5, 2pm. Presented by Birdcage Theatre at the State Theatre (1489 Myers St., Oroville). Tickets: $20-$25.