The Rice Stuff
My friend Julia, 24 years old, tall and striking and a one-time ballet dancer, was wearing rhinestone-encrusted stiletto heels for the occasion. When she rose to her feet, put her hands to her hips and did "The Time Warp," I knew the Avenue Theater's Rocky Horror Show was a success.
This production had a shaky beginning at the Pinnacle Dinner Theatre in Littleton, where audience participation was forbidden, the cavernous space dissipated sound and the choreography was repetitive and anemic. Aware that Rocky wasn't flourishing at his suburban dinner theater, artistic director David Pritchard offered the musical to David Wells, who had just taken over the Avenue with the intention of livening up the place, and keeping it hopping for as many hours of the week as possible. Wells gave Rocky a late-night Friday and Saturday slot. Nicholas Sugar, who played Frank-N-Furter at the Pinnacle, continued in the role, and brought his combination of choreographic skill and anarchic energy to the direction. The result: a grotesquely funny, ceaselessly moving fever dream, filled with leering faces, black leather, torn fishnet hose and twistily cavorting bodies.
Rocky is a pastiche of clichés from science fiction, horror movies and pop culture. It's an uninhibited celebration of camp, aided by three decades of film and stage audiences who have clapped and sung along to the songs, flung various and specific objects on stage, lit flickering lights and offered randy verbal prompts. The attendees at the Avenue were divided between people like me, who understood the general idea of the thing, and people who had memorized every turn and quirk of the action and were ready to enter a kind of ongoing vocal and physical dance with actors.
The action begins when innocent young Brad and Janet, who have just attended the wedding of a friend, get engaged. Within minutes -- naturally -- they find themselves stranded on a dark road in a pelting rainstorm. They seek shelter and a phone in the sinister castle of Frank-N-Furter, who's a mad alien scientist visiting Earth from the planet Transsexual. Frank-N-Furter has a hunchbacked retainer, Riff-Raff, and varying other minions who occupy themselves either belting out songs or muttering curses. There's also a cultured-sounding narrator and the expected German scientist whose right arm periodically flies up in an uncontrollable Nazi salute.
The actors are never very far from you on the Avenue's tiny stage, and their hypnotically glazed eyes help make the production a total immersion experience, filled with inventive tricks and touches. Should your attention falter for a moment, you'll find everything crashing back into focus when Sugar stalks onto the stage with his sinuously sweeping moves and crimson-lipped, lemon-wedge-shaped smile.
"He's so shiny," mutters Julia. "I'm in love."
Sugar has retained most of the Pinnacle cast, but the performances seem much better here -- which tells you what an intimate space, disciplined direction and choreography, good sound and unmiked voices (thank you, God!) can do for a show. Not to mention the actors' obvious and uninhibited pleasure in what they're doing. Kurt E. Kruckeberg plays Rocky, the Adonis-like human plaything Frank-N-Furter has created for himself. But now he's not just a blankly staring pretty boy, but a brattily amusing, flaxen-haired princeling. Even his body looks better at the Avenue than it did at Pinnacle, where someone had drawn the musculature of a six-pack across his belly in brown pencil. Teresa Cope's Janet is more natural than the professionally hard-edged Janet at the Pinnacle. Chris Boeckx's gangly, dorky Brad comes into his own; Janelle Kato pulls out all the stops as Magenta; and Travis Risner does the same as both Eddie and Dr. Scott. Jeffrey Atherton is an appropriately unruffled Narrator, and Amy Board, with her squeaky voice and perfect timing, is particularly funny as Columbia. The orchestra, under the direction of Donna Kolpan Debreceni, sounds fast, fine and strong.
And Rocky Horror is finally the lewd and lurid midnight fantasy it's meant to be.
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