San Diego Theater Review: THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW (Cygnet Theatre)

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by Milo Shapiro on March 27, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


Those familiar with the movie version of The Rocky Horror Show may be shocked to find that there is no typo in the title of the stage version: Here, there is no “Picture” before “Show.” Before anyone had thoughts of a movie about the gang from Transsexual Transylvania, there was the live 1973 London debut of Richard O’Brien’s musical ode to B-horror films. Playing to packed houses (of 60 people), the stage show quickly moved to a larger theater, capturing the 1973 award for “Best Musical” from the London Evening Standard. Cygnet Theater successfully draws off of 40 years of the movie’s history while equally celebrating the original stage script.

Sean Murray, Danny HansenThe story follows the path of many a horror film: After Janet accepts Brad’s marriage proposal, the happy couple then manage to get lost in the rain. They stumble upon the castle of transvestite Dr. Frank-N-Furter. He unveils his creation, a young blond hunk named Rocky Horror, who fears the doctor and rejects his sexual advances. Brad and Janet get lost in the doctor’s weird world, while some of his associates try their best to take over the castle.

Ticket holders may enter wondering how to behave. For those who have not attended the show before, audience members frequently dress up as the main characters and are encouraged to shout out quips and innuendos, as well as getting up to dance during the show’s many musical numbers. Here, one is clearly attending a theatrical production, but the dialogue and atmosphere are entirely reflective of the familiar movie setting where screaming lines at the screen and throwing objects (toast, cards, rice) is an expectation. Director and lead actor Sean Murray strikes a keen balance between honoring the script and recognizing that the RHPS experience has grown into something O’Brien could never have dreamed of.

Amy Perkins, Jacob Caltrider

When Murray first played the role of the legendary Dr. Frank-N-Furter back in 1991 at San Diego Rep, call-outs were definitely discouraged. This reviewer recalls Murray stepping forward during Act I, glaring at a line-yelling attendee in full Frank-N-Furter drag persona, and deliciously scolding: “THIS is the play.  If you want to scream out lines, go…see…the movie!”  After a huge applause from the house, no one dared yell another line. While it was a tour-de-force moment that has stayed with me for 25 years, Murray admirably serves up another approach now: This time, call-outs are encouraged while the production achieves the right interactive balance of audience participation; this way, all of the actors’ lines are heard (and since the stage script is not an exact mapping of the movie, we want the stage script to be intelligible – something which is also handy for first-time visitors to Rocky Horror).

Bets Malone, Sean Murray, Danny Hansen, Michael Cusimano

One key to accomplishing this is the skill of the Narrator (aka Criminologist) Jim Chovick, who breaks the fourth wall any time he’s onstage. He works up the crowd for playfulness, chides them when they need to settle down (and successfully so, at least on last Saturday night), and improvises off the yellers to get bigger laughs than they got. Chovick’s joyful bravado is a wise and very different take from Charles Gray’s stoic movie narrator, which serves Murray’s need for energized house control.

The cast of The Rocky Horror Show

Another great feat is the balance of updating some songs with new interpretations and keeping others traditional. Murray and musical conductor Patrick Marion keep the balance spot on. Interesting updates (“Science Fiction/Double Feature” is reminiscent of doo-wop; “Touch-A Touch-A Touch Me” has a 60’s Girl Group flavor) balance with the customary sound that RHPS fans would most likely crave (“Hot Patootie” and “Eddie’s Teddy”).

Sean MurrayOne song may have movie fans Googling afterward, wondering “Where did THAT come from?” Brad’s sad ballad “Once In A While” remains in the stage production after getting cut from the movie (you can watch the deleted scene from the movie here).

All of Murray’s efforts would, of course, fall flat with the wrong casting. No worries here, with not a weak link in the bunch. Jacob Caltrider and Amy Perkins strike the right chord as the starchy Brad and Janet. Bets Malone’s Magenta (mostly a non-focus character) gets one of the most scene-stealing moments of the night when she takes off into the audience during “Rose Tint My World.” And as for Murray himself, he both salutes all that we love of the Tim Curry persona from the film and makes it his own − not to mention having the vocal chops to glorify the role in a fun, tight production that will delight both Rocky fans…and the virgins.

Jacob Caltrider, Amy Perkins, Bets Malone, Michael Cusimano, Sarah Errington

Danny Hansenphotos by Ken Jacques

The Rocky Horror Show
Cygnet Theatre Company
Old Town Theater, 4040 Twiggs St.
Wed & Thurs at 7:30; Fri at 8;
Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on May 1, 2016
EXTENDED to May 7, 2016
for tickets, call 619-337-1525 or visit Cygnet

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