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BWW Reviews: Playhouse Does the 'Time Warp' Again

It's an interesting and unintentional coincidence: PETER PAN, which wrapped up Playhouse on the Square's Holiday Season, offered the younger set its first taste of transvestism, with musically gifted actresses alternating in the role of "Peter" (talk about the incipience of gender confusion); now, as the New Year has begun, the older set has its exposure with Jim Sharman and Richard O"Brien's THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. This isn't the first time Playhouse has allowed a cast and crew to indulge themselves in fishnet hose and makeup; I can recall previous performances of this guilty pleasure with the remarkable Mark Chambers (anyone who ever saw him "strut his stuff" is not likely to forget his performance - "boomers" who "time warped" in the aisles still talk about it). I imagine that everyone involved in this production dived headfirst into their costume fittings with all the giddy zeal of children glamming it up at Halloween.

Certainly, ROCKY is a phenomenon unto itself. Reviewing it will be as about as helpful as reviewing Theatre Memphis' A CHRISTMAS CAROL. ROCKY has its built-in appeal. People are either going to gather their umbrellas and toast and enter "the spirit" of the proceedings - or they will roll their eyes and seek tamer entertainment. However, dare I say it? There's a song in PETER PAN - "I Won't Grow Up!" - that, alas, still speaks to my inner spirit - despite, as Mark Twain put it in THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, my "premature balditude" and encroaching laugh lines.

I doubt if anyone reading this review needs an overview of the plot, which pays homage to many of those awful black and white sci-fi films of the 50's and 60's. The majority of those in the audience can already mumble the dialogue. However, as I sat grinning at the prurient proceedings unwinding on stage, I couldn't help thinking . . . "Brad" and "Janet" are like a guiltless "Adam" and "Eve." However, in this twisted, transsexual "garden," the "creator" is "Dr. Frank N. Furter" - and he is also its coy and coital serpent, responsible for deflowering both innocents.

There's always the fun of O'Brien's references to the likes of British actress Janette Scott and beauty-marked American star Anne Francis, both stars of classic horror/science fiction films of the 50's and 60's. (Miss Francis already has a kind of "camp" immortality with the detective series HONEY WEST, a real "guilty pleasure.) There is, too, the projected narration along the lines of that in an old Ed Wood movie (think Bela Lugosi in GLEN OR GLENDA). (Along with the Narrator of INTO THE WOODS, this is one of my favorite conceptions in musicals.) The great, good fortune here is the casting of Bill Andrews, master of the supercilious sneer or the lascivious leer (depending upon the moment); his deliciously ripe reading lends the Narrator the kind of weight that well interweaves the proceedings.

At the center of all this is "Dr. Frank N. Furter" himself, embodied on this occasion by the prodigiously gifted Jerre Dye. He is so entertaining, I am convinced that he could even give one of those Public Television "in concert" performances - devoid of make-up and costumes -- and prompt a standing ovation. He is a worthy successor to the aforementioned Mr. Chambers and can strut and preen with the best of mad scientists. As the virgins soon to be undone amid the gyrations, a bespectacled Jordan Nichols (a LOT more fun than his long-suffering "Marius" in LES MIS) and Sandra Dee-ish Leah Beth Bolton are, initially, properly priggish; watching their moral "regress" is made even more palatable by their acting and musical talents.

All of the secondary characters are delightfully decadent - Devin Altizer's ghoulish "Riff Raff," Morgan Howard's "Magenta" (I love Ms. Howard in roles like this - she was marvelous in an earlier production of REEFER MADNESS), Katie Hahn's tippy-tapping "Columbia," and Marek Zurowski's bronzed "Rocky" (that sculpted body makes Michelangelo's "David"appear in need of a workout). Furthermore, wheeled in during the second half of the play, there is that marvelous scene stealer Jonathan Christian as the stuffy "Dr. Scott" (his fishnet hose hug legs that would raise the eyebrows of a Betty Grable).

Director Scott Ferguson knows how to embrace and stage this material, and some of the touches are clever "in jokes" (watch for the explosion that demolishes a familiar edifice as the space ship takes off). He is aided in no small part by the twisted terpsichore of Jordan Nichols and Travis Bradley, who are working with some of the most familiar and talented dancers in Memphis.

Interestingly, ROCKY's once shocking antics have, over the years, become more sweetly nostalgic - not nearly as offensive to some as, say, the "tote that barge, lift that bail" stereotyping in SHOWBOAT. Audiences who abandon themselves to it will have a delightful time. Amanda Wansa Morgan directed and arranged the infectious music and vocals, and the witty costumes were conceived by Caleb Blackwell. Through February 15.

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From This Author Joseph Baker

I received my Master of Arts Degree in English from Memphis State University and worked as an English instructor at Christian Brothers High School from (read more...)