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?
While you're contemplating how to get Frank to hold you hostage (which is really what he has a tendency to do to anyone who happens upon his castle on any particular dark and stormy night), you will find yourself completely mesmerized by Ryan Bowie's completely fresh take on Riff Raff, Frank's major domo and ultimate oppressor who directs the "Time Warp" with unparalleled style and whose delivery of every line is made with the utmost conviction. Cutting to the chase, he's fucking amazing. Emily Eden plays Riff Raff's loving sister Magenta with a gloriously sasSy Manner and haughty demeanor, while taking on the role of the Usherette with an unbridled sense of purpose.
Michelle Foletta is delightfully wicked and kinda daft as Columbia, Frank's tap-dancing Girl Friday whose hair is styled with the most delicious finger waves you've ever seen. She is fashionable and kooky; in other words, she is the perfect complement to Bowie and Eden's characters.
Competing against Varelia's Frank N. Furter for the sexiest character crown-have I mentioned just how hot he is? Jeez-is Matt Casey as Rocky Horror, the eponymous sex symbol created by the mad scientist to salve all his carnal desires. Casey's Rocky is a dumb blond, there's no need to quibble about that, but he's a nifty dancer and snappy dresser (damn, but that boy can foxtrot in a gold lame Speedo-like nobody's business) who's imminently watchable. It should also be noted that Casey's hair is so blond there is likely a peroxide/bleach shortage in the aptly named "Queen City of the Cumberland." So there's that.
Rounding out the cast are John McDonald as the "heil Hitlering" Dr. Scott and Colin Ryan who doubles as the show's narrator (he sat right in front of me, which fed my self-centered needs every time he was hit by a pretty spotlight) and as Eddie, performing "Hot Patootie" with rocking abandon and meaty authority. Humberto Figueroa and Nicole Powell complete the ensemble (when I wrote that, I said it in my mind all kind of Frenchified in a snotty way) by doing all the other crap that the rest of the cast refused to do-or at least that's how I dealt with it.
Thayer and his live band (as opposed to an undead band) perform the music with a real sense of fun about it, even if they felt degraded while doing so behind the scrim where no one could see them, and Mr. He-Does-Everything-At-The-Roxy also choreographed the shindig, keeping the action going and creating some really clever movement in the process. And he designed the damn costumes, as well. Oh, and the costumes are swell (particularly Frank's and Rocky's-have I mentioned that they're hot?), all colorful and revealing after a fashion.
The Roxy's Rocky continues through November 10, ending the weekend after election day and offering a respite from all those political commercials on your television (who are all these slack-jawed yokels running for the Tennessee State Senate? Oh, wait.) and providing the surefire antidote to early Autumn doldrums. And if you're cold at your house right this minute, you won't be after seeing my very favorite Rocky Horror Show of all time. I swear. I'm Jeffrey Ellis and I approve this message.
- The Rocky Horror Show. Music, lyrics and book by Richard O'Brien. Directed and choreographed by Tom Thayer. Presented by The Roxy Regional Theatre, Clarksville. Through November 10. For details, go to www.roxyregionaltheatre.org or call (931) 645-7699 for reservations.