Stepping Out

LA native stars in SJ production of 'Rocky Horror'


Dave Lepori/Special to the Town Crier
Keith Pinto plays Dr. Frank N. Furter in the San Jose Stage Company production of “The Rocky Horror Show.”

Los Altos native Keith Pinto has always gravitated toward the spotlight. From his work with Los Altos Youth Theatre as a teenager to his current career as a professional actor and dance teacher, his love for the stage and the arts shines through.

Along with teaching a hip-hop class at San Jose State, Pinto stars in San Jose Stage Company’s production of “The Rocky Horror Show,” slated to run through Sunday. It is the story of a couple who stumble into a freaky mansion and embark on a journey through the world of Dr. Frank N. Furter, a transvestite scientist played by Pinto.

“In college, my roommate played me the soundtrack and sort of explained what the whole thing was about,” Pinto said of the cult-classic show. “We used to listen to that soundtrack over and over, and since then, I’ve always wanted to be in it.”

The Los Altos High School graduate added that Dr. Frank N. Furter is different from other characters he’s played. He described Frank as larger than life and explained that because he’s really an alien inside a human’s body, the part requires a lot of sudden movements.

But taking on such challenges isn’t new to Pinto. Over the course of his career as a professional actor, he’s had to get into a lot of different characters – from playing murderer Sweeney Todd to cartoon character Snoopy – and said his imagination has allowed him to do so.

“I think theater – that’s one of the great things about it – you really get different worldviews, and as an actor you have to embrace that,” he said.

Life on the road

Pinto has performed with many theater groups and companies – not only in the Bay Area, but as far away as Germany. He spent two years traveling with “Fame the Musical,” enabling him to live all over the U.S. and Canada. Life on the road had its challenges.

“When you’re working on a show like that, for so long, living out of your suitcase, constantly traveling – I was exhausted,” he said. “There were times where I couldn’t remember which city we just played, and I didn’t know which city we were going to next. I was just, like, ‘Tell me what bus to get on and I’ll do it.”

Traveling with “Fame” wasn’t his first experience touring. While he studied at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts, Pinto formed a hip-hop band with his close friends in 1994. Known as Felonious, the rap and theater group turned “hip-hop artistic expression into theater,” he said. Members created a number of original rap operas, which Pinto said are currently available on Spotify, though the group is no longer together. 

“We were performing in coffee shops as a little acapella rap group, and then eventually we relocated to the Bay Area and San Francisco and formed a live band,” Pinto said. 

Felonious traveled to Hamburg and made an album with German hip-hop groups.

“There was like a five-member band, and almost all of us lived together in a two-bedroom apartment,” Pinto recalled. “We were really living together, working together, close as brothers. So many wonderful hilarious times over the years.”

Triple threat

While a member of Felonious, Pinto played drums and bass, acted and served as master of ceremonies for the group’s live performances. His versatility throughout his career is part of what makes him stand out, according to his mentor, stage director Tom Carter. 

“He’s such a good dancer, such a good singer,” Carter said of Pinto. “You know, he’s a true triple threat.”

Carter has known Pinto his entire career and describes him as “amazingly committed, fearless, clear and passionate, and generous.” He met the actor during a Los Altos Youth Theatre production when Pinto was 15.

“When he’s onstage, the actors or the audience, they get so much out of him, that’s how I see the generosity. He gives so much so fully, every single moment when he’s on stage,” Carter said.

According to Carter, Pinto’s ability shone through during the production of “Footloose,” which was the first time the show had been performed as a musical. LAYT staged the premiere of the show, and the writer of the film’s screenplay, Dean Pitchford, attended the performance.

LAYT is where Pinto got his start, taking his first acting lesson while in sixth grade at Almond School. He quickly found a love for theater and discovered a community that inspired him to continue throughout his life. 

“Working together to put together a show in a limited amount of time, you know, you have to have trust. … Lots of people work really hard to make that production happen,” he said.

For tickets and more information on “The Rocky Horror Show,” visit thestage.org.

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