Thursday, February 2, 2012

'Rocky Horror Show' a little raunchy, but local performance is one terrific musical

By Josh Sewell
Researcher of Film and Television Trends

Those who already have tickets for “The Rocky Horror Show,” the controversial musical being performed at UWG’s Townsend Center for the Performing Arts through Sunday, are in for a wild, risqué romp. Anyone still on the fence about buying them should do it quickly. The show is terrific — funny, surprising and professionally staged with great local actors and musicians. Once word of mouth kicks in, seats will probably be tough to get.

We’ll get the juicy details out of the way, since that’s probably what’s on most people’s minds. Yes, the play gets a little dirty. But it’s nowhere near the depraved free-for-all that some are likely imagining.

If you’ve seen the 1975 cult film, then you know what to expect in terms of raunchiness, although it’s true that watching a 37-year-old movie in your den and seeing it unfold live onstage are completely different experiences. Still, aside from a couple of genuinely eyebrow-raising scenes in the second act (likely the ones that got the show banned last September), you could air it on primetime network television.

Look, we live in a world where middle-aged housewives chat about the latest episode of “True Blood” and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is considered generic beach reading. Many would view the “crudeness” of Richard O’Brien’s work as downright quaint. Even the skin on display is nothing compared to what you see at the beach. Still, the actors showing it off are braver than me.

The basic premise is familiar by now, since it’s engrained in the pop culture landscape. The newly engaged Brad Majors (Seb Burnett) and Janet Weiss (Ginna Blair) are headed to visit a former teacher (Joshua Dixon) one rainy evening when their car gets a flat, forcing them to walk to a nearby castle for help. That’s when things get weird.

The couple is introduced to strange servants Riff Raff (Kyle Knowles) and Magenta (Amy Johnson), a bunch of party guests and a host of other eccentric characters. Then comes the master of the manor, Dr. Frank N. Furter (Jarrett Jones) — just your everyday pansexual, cross-dressing mad scientist. He quickly introduces them his latest creation, the lab-made man Rocky Horror (Matthew Dixon).

What follows is a lot of catchy musical numbers, crazy set pieces and a lot of lowered inhibitions. Ultimately, though, several of the characters learn that putting one’s own pleasure above the interests of others comes with a steep price.

My immediate takeaway from the preview performance I attended? These people have been working their butts off for months and it shows. Director Michelle Rougier has done a remarkable job of juggling all the insane aspects of live theater and delivers an effort that is successful on every level. The sets are cleverly designed; the costumes are stylish, funny and sexy; the music is fantastic.

And, man, those actors. Burnett and Blair are solid as Brad and Janet, both of them displaying a talent for both over-the-top hysterics and killer deadpan delivery. I also liked that they’re built like regular folks instead of models. The vast majority of us don’t look like Susan Sarandon or Barry Bostwick with our clothes off, so kudos to them for proudly owning that fact.

Any version of “Rocky Horror” rises and falls on the casting of Frank, and Jones proves to be an inspired choice. He’s big enough to tower over the other characters if he needs to be threatening, but he displays a wide range of emotions that you don’t normally associate with men of his size (seriously, dude is huge). As a bonus, he’s a dead ringer for Tim Curry if you close your eyes.

Even the background actors (or “phantoms”) had some real standouts in Cody Bradley and Ria Kirk — they shined in the intro segment thanks to some clever improv. The audience participation aspect of the show is going to skyrocket those performances even further since the actors will feed off the crowd’s energy.

I had a great time experiencing “The Rocky Horror Show,” and I can’t wait to see what this group does next. They’ve already sold one ticket.

“The Rocky Horror Show” contains adult material. (Obviously.)

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