Halloween ROCKY HORROR, a Rock Musical and Then Some!

by Jack Shaw

Regrettably I once said that THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW with its cult following and the tendency of theatre groups to over sexualize it made the once-theatrical spoof on science fiction, horror and sexual repression “something else.”

The cast of Stage Left Productions' ROCKY HORROR - running at The Eagle Theatre in Hammonton, NJ through October 29.

Not “theatre art” I said.

Well, I was wrong – I say that with all sincerity. I have had an epiphany at The Eagle Theater in Hammonton, New Jersey. I have seen Stage Left Productions take THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, boil it down, provide a live rock band with a steamy rock sound, and turn it once again into an entertaining spoof, full of interesting characters and, believe it or not, evoke emotion not always involving sex.

Yet sex was involved. And, it worked! Even a particularly interesting take behind a scrim where only shadows and sound clue us to the obvious in our minds. This was actually in the film version, but the scrim effect worked well here, too, with a sense of humor and I found myself thoroughly amused with the old joke. Actors…actors can always add to the old moment and give their unique take.

At the time I said ROCKY HORROR was something else, I was sure I had seen what the show had finally become with its overly enthusiastic following, but that was with a different theatre group, and ironically in the same theatre.

In fairness to the other theatre group, I should also point out that I did not say their production was bad; I just said, “Let’s not call it theatre” or words to that effect. I can see where a theatre company might take umbrage, but I meant it as a means of perspective, not insult. I was calling it as I saw it at the time.

As I call Stage Left Productions’ version of the same show, theatre art, I do so with the perspective that I sat in the theatre for a dress rehearsal with people not in drag, not making a show of themselves, or of the actors on stage. I did not have the benefit of seeing the expected audience and the actors did not have the benefit of having a participatory audience either since this was indeed a dress rehearsal. Interestingly enough, in the program there are instructions for proper participatory behavior. I hope it works. (By the way, I have heard since that it did work and the audience were as well behaved as expected and the show still terrific fun.)

However, Director Ed Santiago’s actors’ energy seemed boundless even at the dress rehearsal, the movements crisp and songs bellowed with such gusto and musicality that it will take a concerted effort on behalf of an audience to overwhelm the songs and make them less than they need to be. The atmosphere, while still vibrant and shocking, does not seem to provoke action offstage but rather enhance the action on stage–as it should be. The costumes fit the characters but not fantasy. Hopefully, this will mean the audience will see the “drag queens” without fueling unwanted intrusions on stage by unnecessarily loud outbursts off stage.

Granted this show had a couple slow moments that needed to be tweaked and will by opening, and there is something about an audience that juices up the actors. Especially the juiced-up audiences this show attracts. But I’m sure this show will be no different for a different reason. Stage Left has always struck me as a high energy group; even their two-person musical, THE LAST FIVE YEARS, addressed every note with zeal. Stage Left’s CHICAGO and CABARET were intense. I might also add that these productions also had an appropriate amount of sexuality and sensuousness. The group it seems always gets high marks for interpretation and style. The tendency with Stage Left shows seems to be less focus on set, except in overall feeling and functionality, not necessarily a fault in my book. It can be, but I haven’t seen it yet. I don’t mind less set, but that could be just a peculiar fit for me.

Standouts for me were what you might expect: Josh Bessinger’s “Frank N Furter” took the role to a new stature and I mean that literally. Bessinger towered over the rest of the cast and that worked well as if to emphasize his character’s superior power. I liked that he wasn’t overdone as I’ve seen in the past; his FNF was more like Tim Curry’s character from the film which I also liked.

Ed Corsi was the perfect Igor-like “Riff Raff” and Rachel Pinkstone-Marx rocked as “Magenta.” I loved that she was “stacked” higher than Ed and it made for amusing contrast and sight gags, and their singing matched their physical prowess. Wait! That came out wrong. Both were great and powerful singers, but Ed sang shorter–lower.

In the-best I’ve-seen-anywhere category–even Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick in the film–were Brian Mead as the shrimpy “Brad” and Michelle Cabot as the bubbly, goody-two-shoes, “Janet.” Their voices were unbelievably “sweet.” Is there any other way to say it?

Emily Weitzel’s breakdown as “Columbia” was quite the standout scene. But then, I can’t say any cast member disappointed. Great show everyone.

Ed Santiago, as always, directs with theatre at the heart. Every image on stage is a picture with a purpose, and it’s obvious he takes great pains that the lighting and sound is flawless.

Brian Bortnick’s band was terrific. I only wish I had been there for the full pre-show treatment.

I have just witnessed proof that a theatre group can take a show the likes of ROCKY HORROR and bring back its original intent and glory, while evolving the show rather than pandering to its cult audience. Not that the audience is to blame. The theatre is aware that eighty percent of the audience will be of that “cult,” and the remaining twenty percent, theatre goers like you and me. ROCKY is not usually my kind of show; but I did like this version a lot. I saw more meaning, ironically in this shorter version than in any version I have ever seen–except the film version. And where is Meatloaf when you need him? No offense, Brian. You guys rock. Meatloaf fan.

This ROCKY HORROR SHOW has a short run–so do make the effort. If your previous attempts to enjoy the fun have been thwarted by its overzealous cult following, and providing that the horde abides by the rules, this may be one of your best opportunities.

by Richard OBrien
Directed by Ed Santiago
October 21-29, 2011
Stage Left Productions
at The Eagle Theatre
208 Vine Street
Hammonton, NJ 08037
Phone: (609) 704-5012

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