BWW Review: THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW at Omaha Community Playhouse is a Campy Spoof
THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW opened at the Omaha Community Playhouse to a mixed review. That is: my own mixed review. I had never seen the original movie but knew of its existence. I was aware there was rowdy audience participation and that it attracted a cult-like following. I approached the show with a lot of curiosity and a hint of apprehension.
My friend, Cathy, and I sat with our bag of props admiring the fantastic set designed by Matthew Hamel and scenic artist Janet Heath. It featured the exterior of a 1950's era movie theatre with a pole extended through a hole in the roofline and a staircase to the right. Projected onto the marquee was "Science Fiction Double Feature" and later participation prompts. The stage floor was checked in retro black and white. Chris Wood's lighting design gave it all a cool vibe.
The action begins with Erica Hall-Sieff descending the staircase in a red and gold usherette uniform carrying a tray of bagged popcorn that she offers to the audience while singing the introductory "Science Fiction" in superb voice. Rob Baker as Narrator, also garbed in theatre usher uniform, gets the show moving along, using a flashlight as a spotlight. A young engaged couple, Janet (Charlotte Hedican) and Brad (Cale Albracht), enter seeking their paralytic former science tutor, Dr. Scott (Jerry Van Horn.) As they drive through the rain with just a steering wheel and a wiper blade they are stopped by a flat tire. The couple follows a light on foot hoping to find a phone. Instead, they find a castle filled with some very unusual characters such as the butler Riff Raff (Kevin Buswell), his sister Magenta (Erika Hall-Sieff), sparkly lipped Columbia (Olivia Howard), doomed delivery man Eddie (Bob Gilmore), and their crossdressing boss Frank 'N' Furter (Ben Sieff). Later we meet Frank 'N' Furter's created muscle man Rocky (Jason DeLong) and Dr. Scott who has his own kinks. I specify "action," rather than "story," because there is no logical story. It's more like the wacky imaginings of a sleep-deprived teenager filled with aliens, transsexuals, and monsters.
Richard O'Brien's ROCKY HORROR opened at the Belasco Theatre in 1975. It lasted for three previews and forty-five showings. Within that short run the show managed to earn a Tony nomination and three Drama Desk nominations. The musical was adapted into a film, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" which had the longest-running release in film history. O'Brien's intent was to fuse B horror films with science fiction, muscle films, and fifties rock and roll music. Some of the accomplished actors and actresses that have appeared in ROCKY productions include Tim Curry, Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, Evan Rachel Wood, Alice Ripley, Jarrod Emick, Adam Lambert, Ben Vereen and too many to list.
ROCKY HORROR celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2015. Unlike Eddie, this show won't die. And now it lives in Omaha.
Kaitlyn McClincy directs an OCP cast that will undoubtedly draw the enthusiastic approval of ROCKY HORROR aficionados. Ben Sieff as the alien transvestite mad scientist shows more than skin as he struts his stuff with a strange mixture of arrogance and vulnerability. He sings in a pleasing baritone. Erika Hall-Sieff goes full throttle with her strong vocals. Kevin Buswell pulls out a eerily cool voice for Riff Raff and if I was captivated by one actor on stage, it was he with all of his subtle gestures and facial expressions...Buswell is gloriously creepy. Albracht is suitably nerdy and Hedican embodies a naive' and likable Janet. Jerry VanHorn is humorous as the wheelchair bound Dr. Scott. The dancing Transylvanians are the most fun to watch with Courtney Cairncross' creative choreography consisting of contorted bodies, grimaces, and frenetic movement.
My friend Cathy was fully into the show and loved it. She threw the toast, yelled at the actors, squirted the plastic pistol as I tried to keep the ink in my notebook from running. She even danced with the cast at the end. I, however, couldn't find what director Kaitlyn McClincy calls my "truest form." I found ROCKY HORROR to be entertaining for its fun choreography (although several actors slipped and fell on the wet floor on preview night), visually appealing for the set and many of Amanda Fehlner's costumes, and enjoyable for much of the music. The colored wands are fascinating touches as they criss cross like military swords at a wedding, line up, or wave with the wonderful orchestra so ably conducted by Jennifer Novak-Haar. The use of the entire theatre space is interesting. There are several laugh out loud moments, including the faces of those characters peering into the monitor and the gyrations of Olivia Howard. Everyone will find something to appreciate.
That being said, this show does not reside in my comfort zone. Watching a woman sing while dressed down to her frilly can can and cotton bra (remember they used to come in a box?) and a man in his tighty-whities made me squirm. They seemed to be perfectly at ease, but I was not. The raunchy simulated sex scenes were even more disturbing to me. However, this will unquestionably be a favorite for the Omaha theatre world. This show may be "campy" in more ways than one. You may put yourself squarely in the camp where you let your inhibitions fly or you may find that your camp is one that still has comfortable boundaries. Either way, this is a show you will remember as something artsy and different.
Photo Credit: Robertson Photography