The Rocky Horror Show- The Charles Atlas Seal of Approval
Going to see The Rocky Horror Show is, for a theater nerd like myself, like visiting an old friend (or, as the case may be, an aging, raving, Alzheimer’s stricken grandparent). It’s consistently hilarious to me that, at least once in every program, someone will refer to this show as “not your mother’s Rocky Horror!”. My mother was born in 1956. She was a senior in high school in 1974. The movie premiered in 1975, so yes, this is EXACTLY my mother’s Rocky Horror and she loved the shit out of it. Has ol’ Jizz: The Musical aged well? Eh, kinda. I mean, in an age of Ru Paul’s Drag Race and Transparent, Rocky feels less transgressive (I don’t think anyone really says “transvestite” anymore, for instance) and more like a fuzzy, stiff blanket. That’s not to say that the raging fandom of Rocky Horror has slacked, it’s just that the show feels more ritualistic now, more of an homage to itself, than a truly edgy piece of theater. Nothing symbolizes this more than the guy who wandered past me pre-show in a zebra-print corset over chinos worn with a mint green button-up and loafers. You kinda have to work to make somethingsomething happen here, and, unfortunately, mere T & A no cut it. This version, directed by Greg Bell, does and does not come through on this. Straights Brad (Phil Vannoorbeeck) and Janet (Bridget Linsenmeyer), having just gotten engaged, hop in the car and roll along to go visit their mentor, Dr. Everett von Scott (Chip Meister). They’ve got a flat, how about that, and wind up knocking on the door of a decidedly strange household presided over by the beautiful slash terrible Dr. Frank N. Furter (Garrett Zink). This sexy scientist is whipping up a man with a tan, the big-muscled, tiny-brained Rocky Horror (Stephen Edwards). Our poor kittens are soon caught up, not entirely unwillingly, into the orgitastic world of Frank, which includes menacing house-man Riff Raff (Jim Baxter), his sister, Magenta (Parker Bailey Steven), cutie-pie airhead, Columbia (Emily Biondi) and a guy in the freezer (Vince Vuono). The first thing I noticed, here, was the music. Rocky Horror has to, well, rock. It’s not that music director Michael Tan and his band don’t know what they’re doing, it’s that the vocal performances, as a whole, are curiously tentative. I mean, Tan literally can’t turn the instruments down any further. The actors aren’t mic’d, and that’s part of it, but I felt like some of them were super struggling with getting those notes. Exceptions, of course, prove the rule. Linsenmeyer of the aggressive curls broke loose on “Touch-a, Toucha-a, Touch Me” and the whole cast murdered “Time Warp”. Steven gives ya shivers whenever she’s up, her voice is grrreat. On the whole, though, I felt like the rainbow of song wasn’t so strong. Acting-wise, where has Jim Baxter been all my life? His leather-vested, Skrillexed-haired Riff took the whole thing up a thousand notches, that dead-eyed stare triggered my primal brain in all the right ways. His squicky icky relationship with Magenta is solid gold, both of them ramp up into the kill-you-deadosphere. Zink works hard and mostly hit it hits it with Frank. The part is damned difficult because you’ve got to walk the line between making it your own and knowing that it belongs, always and forever, to Tim Curry. But he gets his sneer on and works the stage and generally makes me swoon, so, all good. Emily Biondi’s sex-on-legs Columbia seems to be channeling a hamster crossed with a anime cartoon, which works and is kind of delightful. What really sets this production apart, though, is the choreography. I can not think of a single show that I have seen at Spotlighters that had better choreography. Jillian Bauersfeld and her Phantom Corp, BIG standing O (my favorite kind) and give them all medals, seriously. They elevate what could have been silly background into high art and they do it in a box as big as the kitchen in my first apartment. I love, love, loved it. There are so many clever moments, Riff becoming a puppeteer of the entire chorus, the Phantom’s imitation of fog winding around the tragic pair’s feet. To be honest, without it, this show would have been a little pedestrian, with it, it’s just enough different to set it apart from zombie Rocky clones of yore. Set by Alan Zemla is practically non-existent, but it makes sense when you see the size of the core. I generally liked the costuming (design by Amy Bell and Todd Douglass) even if it did stray a little Spencer’s Gifts. There are (covered, mostly) bondagey boobs and dicks galore and that’s all we really look for with Rocky, right? Here’s a thing I could have lived without: the constant call-back interruptions by emcee Vaz Deferenz. It’s not that I don’t get it, it’s that they were largely unfunny and unnecessary, more “Look at me!” than actually encouraging audience participation. I actively wished for Deferenz to shut the fuck up and let me come to it on my own. I feel stupid saying this, but the point of call-backs in the picture show version of this is to prove how many times you’ve watched it by timing your “like Pinocchio!” moments exactly to the run-time of the movie. When you do it to this extent in live theater, it seems hostile.
BOTTOM LINE: Spotlighter’s Rocky Horror Show is quite a few levels above good enough, even for a weary Time Warper like myself. The energy, surprise moments and excellent, EXCELLENT choreography more than make up for any vocal weakness or emcee irritation. If you’re gonna see it, you’re gonna see it and you don’t need any validation from me, but here it is anyway: going is a step to the right, for sure. You’ll love the shit out of it.
Running at Spotlighters until November 9th.
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