BWW Reviews: Boiler Room Theatre's frisky, campy ROCKY HORROR deserves an audience that works
With spirited campiness in abundance - and the sumptuous physical trappings provided by designers Anthony Popolo and Billy Ditty - The Rocky Horror Show takes over the Boiler Room Theatre for the month of October, giving audiences a rose-tinted view of a fantastical world full of transsexuals, transvestites and other-worldly aliens. In short, it's just another night over at the Frankenstein place.
Creatively staged by director Megan Murphy Chambers and choreographed by the legendary Pam Atha amid the gorgeous, movie palace-inspired set designed by Popolo (who also does the atmospheric, if perhaps too much so at times, lighting), with her enormously talented cast clad in Ditty's extraordinary costumes, The Rocky Horror Show is wonderfully sung and acted - and the band, under the baton of music director Jamey Green, will knock your socks off - but, for the love of God, the audience at the show's second performance must have been either: (A) brain-dead zombies; (B) overfed or over-drugged old farts; or (C) uptight suburbanites with flagging libidos. To put it succinctly, the audience sucked. And not in the good way.
The audience participation that exemplifies the Rocky Horror experience was virtually non-existent (okay, two girls stood up in the second row to join in on the "Time Warp," only to be shouted down by the tight asses seated behind them) and that is an essential part of the sheer joy to be derived from the offbeat, but internationally revered, musical theater mainstay. But you can't help but love that stellar cast assembled by Chambers, who give a full-throttle performance of the show, giving their all to bring the story to richly skewed and provocative life onstage.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that in 2002 I directed the (I daresay "brilliant"- and it was award-winning, can't forget that!) Nashville premiere of The Rocky Horror Show at TPAC's Andrew Johnson Theatre for Circle Players (which featured Mrs. Chambers' husband, Mr. Chambers, as Rocky. In this production, Jack Chambers creates a visual cavalcade of projections that underscore the show's inherent campiness, giving the show a firmer creative foundation). Thus, while I can be as objective as the next guy, I can also be just as prejudiced as the next, so take with a grain of salt whatever I have to say that might be considered the least bit derogatory or judgmental.
Led by the scintillating performance of Geoff Davin as Frank N. Furter, who gives a completely fresh reading of the role, imbuing him with a gospel fervor that plays out through his evangelical delivery of the script's tastiest lines, a southern drawl punctuating the air like so much toast or rice thrown onstage (oh, wait, that never happened, thanks to zombies in the audience). Davin's Frank is much more in keeping with Tom Hewitt's portrayal in the 2001 Broadway revival: Davin (whose bathwater might be drinkable) is a big, strapping son-of-a-gun with the soul of a chanteuse. Dressed in artfully ripped fishnets and sporting a gorgeous array of lingerie that would make Victoria spout all her many secrets, Davin towers above his supporting cast in four-inch (just four inches? Hmmm) stilettos that vault him into the stratosphere, giving him even more stature among the talented troupe assembled on the Boiler Room's intimate stage (which really works sublimely for this out-of-this-world tale). And his "Sweet Transvestite" is just decadent enough to make you squirm in your seat (however, it's between you and your priest what it is that's making you squirm down there).
Davin's performance is matched, to the last one, by the remainder of the cast, all of whom remain remarkably focused throughout the quickly-moving musical. Patrick Kramer, rendered relatively pint-sized next to the towering figure of Davin's Frank, gives a convincingly menacing performance as Riff-Raff, his eagerly anticipated "Time Warp" setting the stage on fire (figuratively) with his vocal pyrotechnics. Opening the show as the Usherette and then seamlessly becoming Magenta, Melodie Madden Adams shows off her gorgeous voice to perfection, while again serving notice that she is an actress of great range and versatility. They are joined on Frank N. Furter's domestic staff by the vapid and vague Columbia, played by Jordon Tudor with a certain scatterbrained charm.
Mike Baum and Britt Byrd are perfectly cast as the sweet, innocent and preternaturally square Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, the hapless couple whose blown-out rear tire (kudos to Evelyn O'Neal Brush for her cheeky portrayal of said automotive appendage), sends them to the beckoning beam of Frank N. Furter's porch light in search of assistance on that very rainy night. Baum has an ageless and timeless look and appeal that ideally cloaks Brad with believability and earnestness. With talent to spare (his "Once in a While" is really lovely and his "Damn it, Janet!" is kinda sexy, actually, in that whole Frankie-and-Annette-budding-sexuality kinda way that makes you wanna dry hump your bunkbed) and a palpable stage presence, Baum very easily becomes any character he is asked to play onstage and, as expected, he delivers a winning performance. Byrd (who knew she could sing, the little minx!) is sweetly wide-eyed and unsoiled as the virginal Jewess, crafting a credible character in the process of her time onstage, looking winsome and lovely in her undies (good lord, if that half-slip could talk!) and she delivers a terrific, Miss America pageant-appropriate version of "Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me" that ranks right up there with the best, so charming is her rendition.
Kyle Mothershead's Rocky Horror (whose bathwater is definitely drinkable) is engaging and charming in his oafish, only-half-a-brain way and he certainly cuts a (how do I say this without sounding too lecherous?) "dashing, handsome figure" in his gold briefs - and his "Sword of Damocles" is well-done in the process. But for my money, the real show-stealing performance of the night comes from Ryan Leyhue whose Eddie, despite the fact that he has been rendered a zombie by Frank's freakish experiments that result in the creation of Rocky, takes no prisoners as he takes the stage to perform "Hot Patootie," which for my money is the number of the night. That Leyhue then so assuredly morphs into Dr. Scott in the play's second half is like so much icing on the cake that is the sex-filled, turn yourself completely over to pleasure, diversion that is The Rocky Horror Show.
As the show's narrator, Alan Lee gives a perfectly arch (or archly perfect, depending on your perspective) reading of the role, zealously jumping into the breach when needed and staying appropriately above the fray when it serves his purpose. Obviously, he's the perfect choice for the role.
While Chambers' direction and vision for the piece is felt throughout, what impresses most of all is how deftly she moves her four sexy phantoms in and out of the scenes, utilizing them well throughout the show while never allowing them to steal focus. So congratulations to her for that and to her four phantoms - played by the aforementioned Brush, Corrie Miller, Jeremy Maxwell and Brandon McCabe - for their contributions to the show. I'd definitely drink their bathwater.
Green's five-person band (he's on keyboards, of course), that features Matty Adams on guitars, Tom McGinley on saxophone, Doug Bright on bass guitar and Rick Malkin on percussion, provide the perfect accompaniment for the show's musical numbers, playing with confidence and passion. Atha's choreography is swell, particularly her riotous version of "Time Warp" that's certain to set your feet a-tapping even if your sizable ass remains firmly planted in your seat.
While "Hot Patootie" sets the bar high, the show's other musical numbers are well-staged and sung, with particular effervescent and notable versions of "Over At The Frankenstein Place" (sweetly sentimental and soothing), "Floor Show/Rose Tint My World" and "I'm Going Home" tugging at your heartstrings, ensuring a place on your own personal hit parade of Rocky Horror highlights.
The Rocky Horror Show. Book, music and lyrics by Richard O'Brien. Directed by Megan Murphy Chambers. Music direction by Jamey Green. Choreographed by Pam Atha. Presented by Boiler Room Theatre, Franklin. Through October 31. For details, visit the website at www.boilerroomtheatre.com. Reservations? Call (615) 794-7744.