For those of you not yet born during the prehistoric days when the only real way to see a movie was to go to a movie theater, a phenomenon occurred in the mid-1970s that was unprecedented and has not been repeated since. A cult following developed for a science fiction sex-fantasy spoof on B-movies from the 1950s called The Rocky Horror Picture Show. There were reports of people seeing it literally hundreds of times and midnight showings of the film became the place to be in cities all across the U.S.A. All of this stemmed from the mind of Richard O’Brien who wrote the music, lyrics and book for the original 1973 London stage musical The Rocky Horror Show.
Raleigh Little Theatre has taken the bold step of presenting a two-week run of this difficult (and likely expensive) to produce musical. It would be impossible to provide a complete Rocky experience without embracing the production’s tradition of the audience playing an integral role. In the lobby were several people dressed in character selling Audience Participation Packets for $5, which encouraged interaction with what was going on across the footlights. There was a very well-done address to the crowd before the actual musical began by one of the players. Her message was simple: we recognize the role of the audience and want you to have fun, but please respect your neighbors’ right to enjoy the play, and we will not tolerate throwing anything onto the stage.
With a backdrop of a movie screen playing rapid-fire clips of cheesy 1950s Sci-fi movies, the usherette (Sandi Sullivan) introduces the show with a great rendition of “Science Fiction/Double Feature.” The scene quickly switches to a church wedding where we are introduced to two of the main characters, Janet (Sarah Winter) and Brad (Kaine Riggan), some of the straightest people you will ever meet. Brad, the king of geeks, professes his love for Janet as the audience sings along to “Dammit Janet.” Like a Greek chorus, Rocky uses a narrator (the icy but sexy Evelyn McCauley) to move the action along. She informs us that Janet and Brad are now leaving to visit an old teacher. This is where real fun starts.
A flat tire leads them to look for help at an old castle where the door is creakily opened by Riff-Raff (Brent Wilson). Shortly after that, the entire company performs “Time Warp,” what has become the anthem of the show and its most famous number. Here, the audience joins in dancing in the aisles and singing along. Sensing the possible danger and the “I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” trepidation, Janet and Brad try to leave but are stopped by the master of the castle, Dr. Frank N. Furter, who is a transsexual, cross-dressing mad scientist played with delicious empathy and enthusiasm for the part by James Ilsley. He introduces himself, with great voice and campiness, in the song “Sweet Transvestite.”
The plot continues with the expected appearance of Rocky, the monster and Dr. Frank N. Furter’s creation/sex slave, played by the very muscular Brian Fisher. To state the obvious, if this story sounds familiar, well, DUH! This was a brilliantly conceived creation that cleverly combines the Frankenstein story, sex (of all kinds and combinations), 50s Rock and B-movies, all done with a sly wink.
The second act begins with a quite graphic – although only seen as shadows – sex scene where both Brad and the previously demure, virginal Janet engage in hot monster sex. Of course this plays into every male’s fantasies as the now only underwear-clad Janet purrs “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me” (I wanna be dirty).
Not all was perfect on opening night. There was a fair amount of collisions when the full company was on the relatively small stage. Most noticeably, the number “Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul” – that literally jumped off the screen in the movie, sung by Meat Loaf – was way below the level of the rest of the show in execution and singing by David Adams.
With the expectation of tightening up some of these minor opening night glitches, this run will only improve to a highly professional sheen. For a community project, there were some quite sophisticated effects and the scenery and lighting was done at a very high level. Best of all was that in this day of cost-cutting and canned music, there are live musicians who were situated above the action at the rear of the stage. Music Director/Conductor/Keyboard player Scott R. McKenzie led a six man band that rocked the house to a score that sometimes bottomed out at formulaic 1950s rock, but was always infused with great skill and energy. If you haven’t done the “Time Warp” since the thought of having children was distant and remote, then you’re long overdue. If you don’t know what that is, it’s time you found out. For more information, please view the sidebar.
Editor's Note: For more information on this show than you may wish to know across a score (or more) of lifetimes, see http://www.rockymusic.org/index.php.