Regional Theater Review: RICHARD O’BRIEN’S THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW (The Old Globe in San Diego)

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by Kat Michels on October 8, 2011

in Theater-Regional

BEING A VIRGIN CAN BE ROCKY

Best known for raucous audience participation at midnight screenings, Richard O’Brien’s cult movie classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show began life on the London stage in 1973. It enjoyed instant success by effectively melding the campy goodness of late night monster movies with ostentatious in-your-face glam rock.

British audiences and critics loved the burlesque of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein where, in this case, an innocent couple’s car conveniently breaks down near a castle occupied by a cross-dressing mad scientist from another planet here on Earth to construct a man “with blonde hair and a tan” good for relieving his. . . tension.

Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show – Regional Theater Review by Kat Michels – at The Old Globe in San DiegoIt wasn’t until Lou Adler brought the play to Los Angeles that a movie version was contemplated.  Never embraced by mainstream audiences, the film instead became a late night cult classic. For years it played at midnight screenings across the country, where attendees would dress up as characters from the show, talk back to the screen, sing along, and shout the lines.

Audience pantomime is now so wedded to the Rocky Horror experience that even theater-going audiences expect – and are expected – to join in the fun.  The Old Globe’s current production (renamed in this case Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show) takes full measure of this aspect, offering goody bags in the lobby filled with the standard props of Rocky Horror play-along like squirt guns, lighters, and toilet paper.  Though some Old Globe audience members didn’t know their lines (the actors help them along), and other seemed content to sit back and let the pros do the work, many in attendance took up their tasks with gusto – which sometimes made watching the audience more entertaining than the actual show.

Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show – Regional Theater Review by Kat Michels – at The Old Globe in San DiegoThe Rocky Horror Show was always something of a bottle rocket.  As originally conceived, it was designed to shock as much as entertain. It ignites quickly and sparkles right up through “Time Warp” and Frank’s full-on drag entrance mid-Act I (“Sweet Transvestite”), and then falls limply back to earth. The shock value worn away long ago, what remains is no more scandalous than a Can-Can, and the show’s structural flaws are ignored only to the extent one gives in to its fairly tame museum campiness.

Director James Vásquez and choreographer JT Horenstein seem to sense the problems at hand, often winking at us from the stage.  The Narrator Dr. Scott (David Andrew MacDonald) delivers some lines and steps behind a set piece, only to have it move away to reveal the actor having a smoke.  Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Matt McGrath) breaks through the fourth wall several times, making dry remarks about the other performers, ridiculing the grand staircase on which he trips up and down in heels, and even taking on an audience heckler (planted?).

Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show – Regional Theater Review by Kat Michels – at The Old Globe in San DiegoUnfortunately, even with fine singing performances from Brad and Janet (Kelsey Kurz and Jeanna de Waal), Columbia (Nadine Isenegger), the Phantoms (Kit Treece and Anna Schnaitter) Eddie (Andrew Call), Riff-Raff and Magenta (Jason Wooten and Laura Shoop) and The Creature (Sydney James Harcourt), the forces that be can no more overcome the original’s limitations than you can make a man out of mismatched body parts. Kudos to the design team (Aaron Rhyne’s creative projections, Donyale Werle’s beautiful sets and Emily Rebholz’ scintillating costumes) for giving the Old Globe’s production a great look.

Nevertheless, the audience, which ranged from little old ladies in pearls to men in fishnet stockings and heels, seemed to enjoy the ride, so if you’re willing to forgive the creakiness and a few stretches of tedium, it can still be fun to head up to the lab and “see what’s on the slab.”

kat @ stageandcinema.com

photos by Henry DiRocco

Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show
The Old Globe in San Diego
scheduled to end on November 6
for tickets, visit http://www.theoldglobe.org

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