Thursday, July 26, 2012

Randy Raucous Ridiculous Rocky

There are few things I like more than being genuinely surprised by a live theater production. So I was particularly happy that the current production of “The Rocky Horror Show” at Firehouse Theatre packs quite a few genuine surprises. As a theatrical experience, the production is a bit of a mess – endearingly so – but it’s an undeniable good time and unlike anything else I’ve seen on stage in a while.

Surprisingly, an overabundance of sexual salaciousness is not one of the evening’s surprises. Oh, there’s plenty to get hot and bothered about but the most overt stuff – specifically, the from-behind ravaging of both Brad and Janet by Dr. Frank – is handled comically and with relative discretion. I guess after seeing masturbation and S&M-tinged sex played out somewhat explicitly a couple of times on the prim and proper November Stage in the past few weeks, some randy breast-grabs and comic humping don’t seem so shocking.

The most striking surprise to me about the production was the ferocious performance by Nick Aliff as Riff-Raff. When the character first came out on stage, I had no idea who the actor was, Aliff has so completely transformed himself. And even when he wasn’t front-n-center, Aliff made Riff-Raff full of tripwire energy, an edgy element of entropy in the midst of the already chaotic Castle.

Among the other “wow” moments offered by the production are some inspired costumes by Holly Sullivan, rousing choreography by Maggie Marlin, and a fabulous star turn by Terence Sullivan as Dr. Frank N. Furter. Sullivan’s costumes consist of some of the most striking and intricate leather and bondage-ware I’ve ever seen; though I’m hardly an expert, the costumes set the mood more effectively than any other production element. The ensemble numbers were some of my favorites because of Marlin’s choreography, energetically performed by director Jase Smith’s young and physically fit cast.

And Sullivan just owned the stage from the moment he made his entrance. His imposing physicality – amped up by 6 inch heels – made his presence overwhelming in all the right ways. There were times I didn’t know what exactly he was going for in terms of his accent, but his body language was as important as the words he was saying. There was no doubt that Dr. Frank dominated this dungeon and he did so in a winning and consistently engaging way.

I had some problems with the production. I had heard about some technical issues during opening night and one of the entrance doors to The Castle fell apart on the night I saw the show. The stage seemed cramped at different times, in stark contrast to the expansive and airy set the Firehouse constructed for their last production, “Dessa Rose.” I don’t think the female characters came across as strongly as I would have expected, even though they were played by some of my favorite actresses in town (Maggie Horan as Columbia, Joy Newsome as Magenta, etc.) Having said that, Aly Wepplo as Janet ravaging Chris Hester’s Rocky during “Touch-a Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me” was definitely a highlight.

But my biggest problem with show has to do with the pretty ridiculous storyline which, while also being the source of a lot of the fun, just seems more thrown together and random than I remembered it. If you didn’t know the key role of Eddie (here played by Matt Beyer) from the movie or previous productions, I don’t know that you’d totally get it here. Maybe I’m just turning into an old fuddy-duddy, but a little bit of narrative cohesion even in a show as envelope-pushing as RHS would be nice. Smith seems to be trying valiantly to add some depth with the addition of new material like Horan’s quiet and sweet “Love you like a Record” but his efforts are largely for naught.

Which isn’t meant to dissuade anyone from seeing this show. The pleasures are many; in addition to what I’ve already listed, Leilani Giles has assembled a great band and their onstage accompaniment of Brad (Nick Shackleford) when he sings “Once in a While” is another highlight. Chris Hester makes a buff and perky Rocky; eye candy that can also sing really good.

Perhaps most of all, the show is a good time. While there is no audience participation allowed, there were plenty of raucous hoots, hollers, and catcalls flowing the night I attended. This is a show that engages the audience and you can’t help be caught up in the fun, whether it’s in hailing the dramatic entrance of Frank or hanging on as he teases you with “antici…..pation.” So throw on some leather and head on down to the Firehouse. Just leave your expectations for sense behind and open up to your affinity for buff bodies in bondage-ware. It’s really not that difficult.

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