BWW Reviews: Roxy's ROCKY HORROR SHOW May Be My Very Favorite Ever

Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Show has had a fairly colorful history on Tennessee stages since its debut at Memphis' Circuit Playhouse in the early 1980s and subsequent productions at Clarksville's Roxy Regional Theatre in 1999, Nashville's Circle Players (which I directed) in 2002 and last year's critically acclaimed production at Boiler Room Theatre in Franklin, that is being revived this year for an abbreviated (and almost completely sold-out) six performance run. But, for me at least (and it's hard for me to admit, because I am as self-absorbed a theater person as you're likely to find), the best production I've seen in these here parts is the one that's currently onstage at The Roxy Regional Theatre, starring Matt Varelia as Frank N. Furter, Ryan Bowie as Riff-Raff, and Rob Rodems and Kaitlin Doughty as Brad Majors (asshole!) and Janet Weiss (slut!) that's just about as good as it gets.

Granted, I've never had a bad time at a live Rocky Horror Show performance (and I'm so tight-assed I could open a Pepsi bottle with my butt) and all these homegrown productions have had really great things going for them: Larry Raspberry was the original Frank N. Furter in Memphis, the Circle version boasted a terrific cast that included Stephen Henry and Kay Ayers (and award-winning direction, according to The Tennessean-and my resume) and BRT's show is directed by Megan Murphy Chambers, starring an amazing cast, exceptional concept and aesthetics.

Timeless and tacky, entertaining and ridiculous in its own unique way, The Rocky Horror Show is the musical that just won't die…fire won't kill it, floods won't slow it down, bullets do no good and bad reviews just keep it coming. The Rocky Horror Show, obviously, is a musical pastiche, a tribute to bad B movies and the people who made them famous.

Fast-paced, funky and campy, The Rocky Horror Show attracts a wide range of audience members (from teenagers to baby boomers and Gen Xers who grew up on the film during their halcyon college days) and the off-kilter hilarity that ensues guarantees a rollicking good time is had by all. At the Roxy, you're ushered into the theater by youngsters-who are probably being introduced to the Rocky phenomenon for the first time-to "previews of coming attractions," featuring trailers of equally hokey horror films that inspired Richard O'Brien to create his musical back in the early 1970s.

The audience is encouraged to participate in the hijinks and the relative openness of seating at the Roxy allows for far more engagement than in a tighter, more intimate space (not unlike Janet's apple pie, if you get my drift). The high energy level of the Roxy's Rocky continues unabated for the almost two hours of the show, with nary a weak link among director/choreographer Tom Thayer's cast.

Of course, the Roxy's Rocky benefits from the fact that all the cast members are fairly dripping with stage presence and the whole shebang is just kind of sexy and hot in a way that remains legal, but is sure to get you thinking about things that might give you the big pants. Just consider it a forewarning, people, I'm really not a pervert. Well, not much.

Rodems and Doughty are ideally cast as the middle-class couple who become engaged at the top of the show and whose brilliantly conceived, yet endlessly wayward, sense of adventure set the plot's wheels into motion. The ginger-haired Rodems is an all-American boy destined to greatness in the Junior Chamber of Commerce, while the titian-tressed (for the love of God, how many ways can I describe red hair?) Doughty is all Junior League officiousness as his sweet, young and presumably innocent fiancée. But don't let their looks fool you, for beneath their square appearances and his plaid sportcoat and her granny panties, Brad and Janet are a horny twosome just jonesing to be freed from their middle-class, suburban constraints. What else could explain why they make no real attempt to escape from the Frankenstein Place once transsexual/transvestite Frank N. Furter makes his intentions obvious?

It's probably because Matt Varelia's Frank is quite possibly the hottest, sexiest incarnation of the lewdly ribald, decadently drawn character that you've seen onstage. With a butt you could serve tea on, Varelia fills out his corset and ruffled tap pants to perfection, creating a Frank N. Furter who is over-the-top and outlandishly witty. Yet somehow, he manages to retain a sweetly sentimental sense of whimsy about him, making the character all the more accessible. His witty asides are hilariously delivered and his complete command of the stage ensures you can't look away. Plus, he's hot; have I mentioned that yet?

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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor oustanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror.

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