BWW Reviews: ROCKY HORROR SHOW at Spotlighters by Guest Critic Mark Squirek

When a cast loves what is doing it just makes a great show even better. There isn't a person on stage in The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theater new production of Rocky Horror Show that isn't thrilled to be doing The Time Warp.

The entire evening is packed with fun, transvestites, zombies, Bowie clones in Aladdin Sane make-up, leather, spikes, tattoos, beautiful eroticism coupled with down-n-dirty sex, bras, panties, devices of a personal nature, ray guns, great singing, tremendous dancing and even an orgy. Or possibly two...

The original Rocky Horror Show premiered in a 63-seat theater. Seeing the show at Spotlighters brings the show straight back to its very earliest days.

The stage is a near perfect square that opens up to the audience on all sides, stands unadorned. The space is completely black. This is bare-bones theater at its most intimate.

The audience is so close they become part of the show. Which is only perfect for Rocky Horror is one of the most audience-friendly musicals ever written.

From the minute you enter the theater the cast draws you in. There is an Emcee on stage doing shtick and inviting those who enter early onstage and into games. Members of The Phantom Corp (as the Chorus is called) help and also offer bags of props to use during the show.

Off to the side is a live four piece band which is one of the great parts of this production. Having a real band adds so much to the evening. Michael Tan (Musical Director) runs a tight outfit that follows the mood of the audience and supports the actors perfectly.

Tan understands the closeness of the space at Spots and keeps the volume low, not once overwhelming the actors or infringing on the audience. Guitarist Christie MacDonald is especially enjoyable as she shifts from swamp-funk into country and then fifties-era rock without blinking.

When the lights go down The Phantom Chorus enters from all four corners of the theater. Jillian Locklear Bauersfeld (Choreographer) brilliantly uses The Phantom Corp as not just traditional back-up, but by making them literally part of the environment. Her work throughout the evening is one of the many highlights.

When The Corp enters you realize that they are serving not only as ghouls in the night, but they also represent the fog. It takes a lot of skill to move as many eighteen actors around the confines of Spots' stage and not once make the audience feel claustrophobic or betray the joy in the music.

Her attention to detail shows as every single one of the Phantom Corp is deeply engaged with the action. They lie on the floor, slink around, dance on the poles and throw their bodies into the air with abandon. While they are all equal it is impossible to ignore the commitment, energy and joy in the performances of Sondra Boyle, Amy Bell and Jose Reyes Teneza.

With their car broken down on the road and trapped in the fog, newly engaged couple Brad (Phil Vannoorbeck) and Janet (Bridget Linsenmeyer) enter. The fog starts to surround them, even grabbing at their bottoms as it does.

Linsenmeyer glows with earnest innocence as Janet. As her character grows she finds a depth in Janet that adds brings an unexpected dimension to the role. By the end she has made you not only believe Janet's transformation, but allows you to understand it as well. It's a demanding role and she shines.

As Brad, Vannoorbeck's performance is the one of two weak parts of the evening. All too often he looks lost in the role. While he handles the singing well enough, his work looks more like the older brother at a Bar Mitzvah who thinks he has had some wine. You can almost see him thinking to himself "And now it's just a jump to the left..." while he is moving.

Once past the appearance of Brad and Janet the evening kicks into high gear and the roller coaster of fun never stops. As the narrator Heiko P. Spieker II is spot on. His professorial countenance is perfect for the role. Even when everything in the world seems to be thrown at him you never see him blink or falter as he leads us through the evening.

Riff-Raff (Jim Baxter) is a perfect deadpan and filled with quite menace. The blue-mohawked Magenta (Parker Baily Steven) is so strong that at some points she may be causing the plaster on the ceiling to fall.

When she appears at the end of the show Steven brings a beautifully sad and yet joyful note to the whole proceedings. It isn't easy conveying two distinct feelings inside a single note, but she pulls it off.

The entire cast gathers together to do The Time Warp and the place shakes and everyone in the audience is smiling. Hips are thrust straight out just a foot away from the audience and they are loving it. Some grab the arm of their chair and seem to be doing everything they can to stop themselves form jumping on stage to join in.

All of this leads to the appearance of that sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania.

When Garret Zink appears as Frank he fills the stage. The cape falls off and he steps into high gear. The audience is glad to see him and the cast gathers around their leader. You can see why Janet and Brad would be pulled into his world as he exudes confidence, sexuality and a lust for the sheer fun of life.

Director Greg Bell moves everyone around the stage with ease and it is clear that he has worked hard to help the actors find what they can inside their characters. His production of Rocky Horror has resulted in a surprisingly erotic and very intimate version of the musical.

Bell has allowed VAZ Deferenz, who also served as an emcee during pre-show, to sit in the audience and serve up a barrage of one-liners, wisecracks and effects. While audience participation has become part of the show's tradition, this time out it is simply too much.

The audience on opening night smiled at some of the remarks, laughed at a few, but the majority of what he threw out fell flat. Early in the play he kept stamping his cane on the ground (trying to stir up audience involvement?) so loudly that he almost drowned out Tan and his crew.

While Deferenz can be a distraction, the audience is still king at this show. Flashlights came out at the appropriate moment, cards flew on stage and a couple of people were well versed enough to offer up their own comments.

When Rocky Horror (an energetic and fearless Stephen Edwards) flew into the audience during one number a trio of men in leather vests grinned from ear to ear at both his singing and his perfect six pack abs.

Across the theatre from where I sat a young boy and his older sister were accompanying their parents for the evening. When some of the riskier numbers (such as Janet pushing the head of a man down across her stomach to her...) the poor sister tried in vain to hide the deviant action from her brother's eyes with a Spotlighter's program.

Being a young, inquisitive man he fought her off and neither his mother nor father were there to back up the sister. They were transfixed by Janet's growing smile. At some point the Mother hit her husband across the arm. Not sure why...

During the wonderful orgy scene, which was one of the most quietly beautiful and intimate moments of the night (again The Corp shined), an eighty-year old couple kept looking at each other knowingly. At the end of the show they walked out hand in hand...

If Bell can reign in Deferenz and help Vannoorbeck find Brad, who knows what this cast is capable of. A completely consuming and enjoyable night that keeps the spirit of Spotlighters alive.

The "Rocky Horror Show" continues its run at the Audrey Herman Spotlighter Theater now through Nov. 9th, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. with double shows on Friday, Oct. 31st and Sat., Nov. 1st, at 8 and 11 p.m., TenSpot Thursday on Oct. 30th at 8 p.m. Learn more at www.spotlighters.org.

ABOUT MARK SQUIREK: A graduate of UMBC as well as The Players Workshop of Second City, Squirek has acted in, directed or written numerous plays over the last 25 years. In 2006 Broadway World named him Playwright of the Year for his one act SOD. He has worked at theaters in New York, Chicago, Baltimore and Washington D.C. For two years (2007-2009) he was on the Board at Mobtown. His most recent short story can be found in the just published anthology, Night Beat--a collection of fiction based on the 1950's NBC radio show centered on a night case reporter for a large Chicago newspaper. Squirek also regularly contributes to The New York Journal of Books.



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