Thursday, October 29, 2015

"The Rocky Horror Show"

The Rocky Horror Show
Richard O’Brien (Book, Music, Lyrics)

D'Arcy Drollinger as Frank-n-Furter
Hot men and women in sensuous, black corsets of lace and leather who are raised on high by spiked stilettos, all singing and dancing in rock numbers that are precursors of later musicals like Grease or Hairspray can mean only one thing:  The Rocky Horror Show is yet once again in revival. 
Generations of costumed, crazed audiences around the world have sustained decades of infatuation for this 1973 West End musical as they toss toast and rice, talk back to actors in unrehearsed unison, and dance to the well-known line steps of “Time Warp.”  While there is always some camp involved in any Rocky live staging or screen showing, Ray of Light’s anniversary revival of Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Story is first-class, musical theatre in every respect.  Bringing together a stellar cast, eye-popping set and costumes, electric choreography, lighting and sound exactness, and a group of musicians that play ‘70s era rock like nobody’s business, this Rocky soars well beyond the midnight fare many in the audience are accustomed.

On a dark and stormy night along a lonely patch of road, just-engaged Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, who look like they stepped out of a early 70s Young Republicans meeting or an ad from a Sears and Roebuck catalogue, find themselves with a flat tire.  Flashing lights from a nearby castle draw them nervously into shelter from the downpour.  A blue-lipped, black-lashed butler in skirt and apron named Riff Raff and his sister Magenta, a frizzy-haired, wild-eyed and snarling maid, greet their knock on the door.  Nervous, Brad and Janet enter a house full of roaming, all-too-curious, scantily-clad Phantoms of questionable gender.  They are soon introduced to a mad scientist in black net stockings and tight corset, Frank-n-Furter, who describes himself as a “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania.”  As they are stripped of wet clothes to their underwear by the by the grabby Phantoms, Janet and Brad become swept up in a grizzly murder of Frank’s former lover Eddie (already missing half his brain from an earlier operation by Frank) and the laboratory birth of a muscularly perfect and oh-so tanned Rocky (conceived to become Frank’s new beau).  The two are then led to separate, upstairs bedrooms while Frank imagines his upcoming nuptials with the biceps-popping, sexy, and already frisky Rocky.  But night’s dreams are not going to play out just in their sleeping heads but instead become live sex fantasies their former straight-laced selves could never have imagined.  The night ahead will bring more surprises, twists, and turns for all inhabitants, including Frank, in this other-worldly mansion.  

All of these fantastical scenes -- over-flowing with every sexual perversion and matter of undress imaginable -- are musically punctuated by rock numbers right off a 45 RPM record, close harmonies both eerie and beautiful, and soaring solos that moan and haunt.  To complete the telling are sexy, snappy, and highly coordinated dance numbers by a chorus of ten pan-gendered sets of high-heeled legs – a chorus directed by Bobby Bryce that sometimes resembles frenzied teens at a high school dance, June Taylor dancers raising in patterns legs and arms while prone on the floor, or Rockettes high-kicking their way to glory.

Jason Hoover’s direction of this Rocky Horror pulls every stop possible to tantalize, fascinate, and excite an audience that is already buzzing with excitement upon entering.  The stage-filling, sweeping, futuristic staircase with its underneath nooks and crannies are part of Kelly Tighe’s stunning set design that is enhanced magnificently by Joe D’Emilio’s lighting enhancements.  Storm sounds shake the auditorium thanks to Anton Hedman’s sound creations while the sounds of David Brown’s band again and again almost steal the show’s focus, especially every time Hermann Lara bears down on his mean sax.  And this production is nothing with out the skimpy, imaginative, shocking costumes of Miriam Lewis -- all cosmetically highlighted in deep blues, blacks, and reds by make-up artist Lexie Lazear.  Together, this production crew has created a Rocky Horror that rivals and even surpasses other past viewings.

But wait, there is more.  The cast – this particular cast – is to a person so deliciously detestable to be totally delightful with each bringing a myriad of ways to deliver knock-out performances in action, song, and dance.  Leading the line of course is local favorite playwright and performer D’Arcy Drollinger whose Frank-n-Furter is brimming with drippy sultriness, provocative plunges and spasms, and sensuality that is both alarming and attractive.  With voice that can belt with bombastic blasts (as in “Sweet Transvestite”) or lure in its victim with dripping tones of perverted promise (“I Can Make You a Man”), this Frank-n-Furter is always deservedly center stage. 

His castle cohorts are equally well-suited to shock and satisfy.  Paul Hovannes as Riff Raff brings a rock-star voice with notes that pierce incredible heights when he leads the troupe in “Time Warp;” and from the first moment he slides on stage, he exudes evil waiting to burst forward in a final act of revenge.  Tielle Baker and Mary Kalita each step up to bring exactly the right creepiness and intrigue to Magenta and Columbia, respectively; and both provide solid, confident voices in song when called upon.  In the skimpiest of gold Spandex shorts and with bulging crotch, super-toned Alex Rodriguez literally shines as the lab-manufactured Rocky.  When he sings “You better wise up, Janet Wise” in “Planet, Schmanet, Janet, ” there is nothing false about his voice or his great showmanship. 

Ryan Cowles and Chelsea Holifield could hardly be better cast as the Brad-Janet duo.  From their well-sung “Damn-It Janet” in which love is professed with youthful, emphatic sincerity to later numbers where clothes and inhibitions are shed and tempos intensified, the two make us believe their initial fears, their middle curiosities, and their later hedonistic enjoyments.  Whether in Janet’s steamy seduction of an excited Rocky in “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me” or in Brad’s mournful, contemplative “Once in a While,” each shows capacity to cross many emotional thresholds while still remaining true at core to that naïve, small-town couple we meet in the beginning.

The Second Act of Rocky never seems to live up to the First as storyline always peters out a bit.  This production comes close to overcoming that built-in deficit with well-paced direction, a rousing and arousing “The Floor Show” (complete with most everyone in pink and black heels and stockings), and Frank-n-Furter’s desperate plea for a home among his earthly pleasures and playthings in “I’m Going Home.” 

In an evening so perfect in many respects fall only a couple of flaws.  The opening and final “Science Fiction/Double Feature” hits the target when expanded to full chorus in song and dance but misses the chance to score big when Madeleine Pla as Usherette fails to belt her solo portion with total, spot-on accuracy or power.  And while it is expected and is fun that audience members in a Rocky Horror evening are going to banter the actors with standard taunts, Opening Night was peppered almost constantly by one male from the balcony who hardly let a minute go by without hollering his interruptive mimics, commentary, and questions, even during some solos.  I for one was perplexed that some usher did not go over and shut him down and was amazed how composed actors remained.  Even though I was in the theatre in D.C.’s Georgetown in 1978 for my first Rocky Horror Movie with my own bag of prepared goodies to show and toss, maybe I am not enough of a fanatic to laugh off and appreciate his rudeness.

Once again, Ray of Light blows to bits all incoming expectations with a revival of Rocky Horror Show that is New York in quality and San Francisco in quirkiness.

Rating: 5 E’s

The Rocky Horror Story continues through November 7, 2015 as a Ray of Light offering at the Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available online at

Photo by Erik Scanlon.


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