When the Rocky Horror franchise first hit the streets back in the 1970s, first on stage in London and then in the iconic film that has been featured in countless midnight screenings ever since, it was a howl against sexual repression. Transvestites! Transsexuals! Perverts of all descriptions!
Well, now that we're in a world of transgender people who are insisting on becoming part of the fabric of normal life, not just a fishnet-stocking punch line, it's harder to make this show work in the same way it did decades ago. And this attempt by the talented director Patrick Ciamacco and Blank Canvas Theatre gives this homage to B-films and the horror genre a valiant try. But the frenetic effort falls short in a couple of major ways.
If you have always gone to bed by 10 and have never seen the film version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the plot is simple so as not to interfere with the rock concert going on all around it. Straight arrows Brad and Janet are on the road when their car breaks down in a rainstorm, so they knock on the door of a nearby castle (!) and are ushered into the no-holds-barred world of sexual freedom run by the owner, the libidinous beast from afar, Frank 'N' Furter.
From his Lurch-like butler Riff Raff to the high-heeled minions of both sexes who populate the casa, it's clear that this isn't a run-of-the-mill McMansion. It's a den of iniquity where people are urged to, "Don't dream it, be it!" And the book, music and lyrics by Richard O'Brien are all focused on exploring sexual byways in songs such as "Sweet Transvestite," "I Can Make You a Man" (sung by a man, of course), and "Hot Patootie." Unfortunately for this production, most of the lyrics are submerged by the over-amplified rock band under the direction of Bradley Wyner. That's too bad since a lot of the words to the songs are rather sweet and not all that salacious.
Even though the story gets buried by that audio avalanche, the cast infuses the show with plenty of energy. Eric Fancher and Meg Martinez sing powerfully and are spot-on as dorky Brad and Janet, and Danny Simpson is suitably creepy as Riff Raff. Adding some humorous touches are Jonathan Kronenberger as the very straight Narrator, and Mark Vendevender as Rocky, the muscled and enormously well-endowed boy-toy Furter has created in his diabolical laboratory. Indeed, when Rocky first appears, his little Elvis is poking out of his tight satin shorts and has to be tucked back in place by a somewhat disgusted Riff Raff.
When their singing is audible, which isn't often, Amber Revelt as Magenta and Tasha Brandt as Columbia find ways to add some interesting dimension to the denizens of the castle. The play is bookended by BJ Colangelo as the Usherette, singing "Science Fiction Double Feature" as our way into and out of this bizarre world. And the rest of the ensemble handles Katie Zarecki's choreography with unstinting passion.
The scripted events on stage are often interrupted by comments shouted from the audience, some who will no doubt be in costumes echoing those in the play. These ritual, not-so-spontaneous ad libs, have been a feature of all Rocky Horror shows for years, and they do add to the ambiance (Janet: "I'll come with you." Audience member: "That'll be a first!").
Of course, the show is driven by the dominant, highly sexualized personality of Dr. Frank 'N' Furter, and in this show that task has been handed to Kevin Kelly. Kelly is a splendid, inventive actor and a fine singer, but he is miscast in this role. He's quite a bit older than almost everyone else in the company. This makes FNF look more like a dowdy dowager with bad makeup who stumbled into the wrong Halloween costume party, than a dangerous purveyor of sexual liberation. And Kelly's toe-pinching walks across the stage on sparkly platform shoes with chunky heels brings to mind an older lady looking for a chair in Dillard's shoe department, not the subversive prowl of an unhinged sex maniac.
Kelly, who doesn't look like he's having much fun, has his best scene at the top of Act 2, when Frank occupies the bed of both Brad and Janet, introducing them to the joys of non-missionary-position sex. Still, Kelly's usual ability to infuse lines with double meanings and embellish a script with his own brand of sly double takes to the audience is little in evidence.
This is a show that comes equipped with its own rabid fan base, so the seats are sure to be filled for the run at BCT. They are guaranteed to yell, scream, and shout obscenities on cue. It's just too bad that this production doesn't bring the audience to a shattering orgasm — theatrically speaking.