"It's not easy having a good time," moans Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the glam-rock, cross-dressing mad scientist diva of The Rocky Horror Show. So true. Seeing three different productions of this rock 'n' roll musical on the same weekend offers a dizzying, exhausting six-hour hop through the good-time warp of kitschy-goth costumes, one-dimensional characters, raunchy sex jokes and confoundingly catchy tunes.
The experience is also a study in what makes this show an audience fave. Rocky Horror, a reliable moneymaker, is an autumn ritual at lots of small companies here, there and everywhere. Frank-N-Furter is to Halloween what Tiny Tim is to Christmas.
Each of the current productions now running takes a different route to Transylvania. At the Greater Lewisville Community Theatre, it's practically G-rated, a Disney-esque, sanitized Rocky scrubbed of anything that might be perceived as too gay. In Teatro delle Muse's hard-R staging in Plano, it's just the opposite, with a high raunch factor, a roly-poly middle-aged cast and a pre-show trio of bosomy strippers. Out in Grapevine, at Ohlook Productions' tiny black-box space, the fresh-faced actors are like a caffeinated high school show choir slapped into revealing S&M gear.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
The Rocky Horror Show continues through November 1 at ArtCentre Theatre, Plano. Call 214-810-3228.
The Rocky Horror Show continues through November 1 at Greater Lewisville Community Theatre, Lewisville. Call 972-221-7469.
The Rocky Horror Show continues through October 31 at Ohlook Black Box Theatre, Grapevine. Call 817-421-2825.
Each Rocky has its ups and downs—these are all community theaters using a mix of professionals and amateurs—but only one clicks into that skank-edged tone of youthful anarchy that made the piece a cult hit in the 1970s. That would be at Ohlook, a dingy firetrap of a spot seating 50 in a tight squeeze. In their low-budget Rocky Horror Show, directed by Jill Lord, the scenery is bed sheets and plywood, but the young cast members throw themselves into Pamela Langton's sexy choreography with enough exuberant abandon to blur whatever's behind them.
Jeff Wells is Ohlook's Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the alien "sweet tranvestite" bent on creating the perfect love object in his castle laboratory. Every Frank owes something to the 1975 movie's star, Tim Curry, who camped up the role to the corseted hilt, and Wells' sassy Frank certainly goes there. But he also works in some classic Cher and maybe a head toss or two of Tina Turner. Wells is certainly the prettiest Frank-N-Furter in three counties.
Polysexual Frank's romantic interest is made-to-order he-man "Rocky," a handsome halfwit with a well-proportioned chassis shown off in tiny gold briefs. Ohlook's Rocky, Jeff Walters, tops his competition by being a good singer who's also an impressively muscled twink who does chin-ups on a ceiling joist.
In its boa feather of a plot steeped in cultural satire about teenage virgins, Rocky Horror, written by Richard O'Brien, spoofs 1950s sci-fi movies and sneers at the societal mores of pre-MTV generations. O'Brien's score honors doo-wop, early rockabilly, R&B and the glitter rock of Bowie's Ziggy Stardust. Most of the songs have so-so lyrics, but there are sweet, sticky melodies on "Science Fiction Double Feature," "The Time Warp," "Once in a While" (a cha-cha, for goodness' sake) and the swaying finale, the gospel-tinged "I'm Going Home."
As long as music's playing and everybody's dancing, Rocky Horror sizzles. It's the script that's stale. The second act, which finds a lost pair of squares, Brad and Janet, seduced in Dr. Frank's sex dungeon, makes less sense than Plan 9 From Outer Space. That's why audiences started ad-libbing their own lines and throwing toilet paper and toast at the screen back when the movie played the midnight circuit. The callbacks now are as much a part of the show as dancing the Time Warp. You can even download a "participation script" if you're a Rocky "virgin" who's never yelled "asshole!" at Brad and "slut!" at Janet.
And that's where Ohlook really gets it. At its 10:30 p.m. shows, the crowd tilts heavily toward teens in sparkly makeup (on girls and boys). They spout all the naughty shout-outs and aren't shy about adding fresh ones. "Do ya know Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa?" goes one interruption, just before Frank-N-Furter says, "I know the symptoms."
Ohlook's live band, led on keyboards by Mark Stamper, keeps up a throbbing tempo and only occasionally drowns out the un-miked singers. There's a hint of chaos in the air at this Rocky, as if any moment the doc, his "phantoms" (dancing girls) and his faithful servant Riff-Raff (Evan Spreen) might rush into the crowd and start ripping off everyone's clothes just for kicks.
Now imagine a Rocky Horror Show cleaned up for prissy geriatrics offended by the sight of a male nipple. That's the one in Lewisville, where the show has been scrubbed of nearly everything funny, sexy and perverse. Cute actor Keith Warren makes a valiant attempt at vamping as Frank, but in the Act 2 seduction scenes with Janet and Brad (played at the other two theaters in shadow against white scrims), the lights go so dim you can't tell if he's humping them or checking them for ticks.
You could take your grandmother to this one, although she's probably already there, judging from the look of the Lewisville audience, whose average age is just this side of last rites. The few bits of salty language not excised from the script drew disapproving "oohs" at a weekend performance. There's even a sign on the entrance warning patrons not to toss rice, playing cards, toast or anything else at the actors because "it's rude."
Uh, that's the point. Too bad this is such a Sunday-schooled Rocky; it's the slickest-looking (Warren also did the costumes, which pop in hot pink, red and black) and the best sung of the trio of productions reviewed. But a Rocky Horror without those shouts of "twat!" and "asshole!" and "elbow sex!" mean you can hear the dumb dialogue, and that's a pity.
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Out in Plano, the pre-show act, a trio of burlesque dancers called Midnight Minx, promises more than the production ever delivers. The ladies doff their lingerie like zaftig Pussycat Dolls. Then Teatro delle Muse's Rocky Horror starts and too quickly turns into a dog.
Looking unrehearsed, confused and, in a couple of cases, maybe stumbling drunk, the cast of this one has only a basic knowledge of script or songs (sung to recorded tracks). Lead actor Ross Sheridan, playing Frank-N-Furter, displays the comic timing of a bag of hammers and sings like a rusty buzz saw. In the oddest bit of casting, Rocky, the perfect physical specimen, is played by Clint Lander, who's built like Jack Black (no chin-ups here). Janet (Kathy French) looks old enough to be the mother to Brad (Chris Naifeh). Everyone goes off-script, rendering audience participation impossible. And it's a full 15 to 20 minutes longer than the Grapevine or Lewisville productions thanks to the dead spots in the action.
They do sell prop bags at the Plano theater, which is nice. For a buck you get a sheet of newspaper (for the rainstorm), rose petals and playing cards. The water gun is superfluous, though, for a show that's already all soggy.
All together now: "Like Janet!" Slut!