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BWW Review: ROCKY HORROR SHOW at Columbus Immersive Theater

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Columbus Immersive Theater breaks down fourth wall, etiquette with THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW

According to etiquette guru Emily Post, there are certain rules of engagement when one attends the theatre. EmilyPost.com suggests the following fundamentals of good audience behavior: No talking. If something must be said, whisper it quickly. Excessively shushing a talkative neighbor can be just as disturbing.

One can only imagine if Post were to be dropped in the middle of a performance of Columbus Immersive Theater's production of the ROCKY HORROR SHOW, currently being presented Oct. 15 through Nov. 1 at the Garden Theatre (1187 N. High Street in downtown Columbus).

For the show to be successful, the audience must be engaged with the performance. Calling Brad Majors (played by Zachary Bigelow) an "as*hole" and Janet Weiss (Tatum Beck) a "slut" is not considered an insult. It is expected behavior whenever either character appears on the stage.

"The audience becomes my scene partner throughout the performance," says Luke Bovenizer, who plays the show's narrator. "I live for the audience callbacks! They bring so much energy to the show and keep me on my toes."

"Sometimes they'll yell something I've never heard before. Those are probably my favorite times because I have to think on my feet."

Often, a call out can be related to a certain line of dialogue. For example, after Dr. Frank-N-Furter seduces Brad, he states, "There's no crime in giving yourself over to pleasure." As if on cue, an audience member shouts, "It's illegal in Ohio."

The tradition of the audience providing a counter point dialogue goes back to the days when the ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, starring Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Tim Curry and Meatloaf, had a cult following at movie theaters' midnight showings.

Rockyhorror.fandom.com credits audience member Louis Farese Jr., with sparking the tradition of audience interaction, blurting out "buy an umbrella, you cheap b*tch" when Janet uses a newspaper over her head to protect herself from getting soaked by rain in one scene. The interaction evolved to using squirt guns to simulate rain to a patron driving a motorcycle down the aisles in a New Orleans cinema to recreate a scene. In fact, there are several online forums with suggested dialogue available online for the uninitiated.

While Columbus Immersive Theater's frowns on throwing hot dogs, rice, and playing cards during the performance, the Edward Carignan-directed production provides a faithful experience to the fans of the movie. It goes as far as to provide a bag of props audience members can purchase for use during the show.

Written as a spoof to the horror movies of the 1950s and 60s, Richard K. O'Brien's script follows newly engaged nerds Brad and Janet who become stranded when their car breaks down near the castle of Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Once inside the castle, Brad and Janet's inhibitions are stripped away like their wet clothing as both find themselves caught under Furter's spell.

Reprising his role from the 2018 production, Nick Hardin cavorts around the stage like David Bowie, circa the Aladdin Sane era. He sneers and snarls his way through lyrics like, "A weakling weighing ninety-eight pounds/Will get sand in his face when kicked to the ground. And soon in the gym with a determined chin/The sweat from his pores as he works for his cause. Will make him glisten... and gleam" (Charles Atlas).

Bigelow and Beck create a believable pairing who succumb to Furter's snake-like charm. While songs like "Sweet Transvestite," "Time Wrap," and "Hot Patootie" are unmistakably ROCKY HORROR, Bigelow's classic delivery in the torch song "Once in A While" could fit into many different musicals.

Those three are backed up by a talented group of actors who each provide a different skill set to the show. Bovenizer brings a restrained, reserved elegance to his story telling role. Dan Kuhlman fleshes out Rocky as Furter's awkward, muscle-bound creation. Jordan Shafer (Magenta), Cody Westbrook (Riff Raff), Lisa Glover (Columbia) and Adam Williams (Dr. Scott/Eddie) each bring their own quirks that make the show unique rather than just a local facsimile of the movie. Rounding out the cast are Joe Gallagher, Rachel Courtney, Cary Mitchell, Joelle Smith, and Andre Tomlinson.

Even scenic director Derryck Menard's design brings the movie's surreal sense to the stage. Menard uses mannequins as lighting props and décor on stage and as social distancing barriers in the audience to keep their audience members safe. Because of the current pandemic, audiences must wear masks throughout the performance and increased health and safety protocols are in effect for each show. A maximum of 44 seats will be sold per performance and can only be purchased in groups of two and four.

While it does satisfy all the state's safety precautions, THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW is not for the faint of heart. Emily Post and her minions need not attend.

Columbus Immersive Theater presents its final week of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW at the Garden Theatre (1187 N. High Street) with 7:30 p.m. shows on Oct. 29-30 with special 9 p.m. shows on Oct. 30 and Oct. 31. The show will also have 5 p.m. matinee on Oct. 31 and a 3 p.m. matinee on Nov. 1.


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