THEATER REVIEW: “The Rocky Horror Show” @ Blank Canvas Theatre by Roy Berko

Through Sat 10/28

On June 20, 1973, I had one of my mind-blowing experiences in a theater. I was in London, and the theater broker couldn’t get a ticket for the show I wanted. He offered a ducat for a newly opened show.

I knew nothing about the musical, but upon arriving at the Royal Court Theatre, I realized that I was in for a wild ride. Instead of entering the lobby, those with tickets were queued up single file. One by one, we were ushered into a blackened auditorium, led by an usher with a narrow-beamed flashlight. Some of the audience members were given rain ponchos. He led me down the aisle and pointed to a seat. I sat.

Suddenly a spotlight on stage revealed an usherette who gave a short speech. Then a spot appeared on a platform raised above the audience at the rear of the theater and we watched as Brad proposed to Janet. The duo got into a car and the motor was heard starting, along with deafening thunder. Lightning flashed and a “roadway” was seen, “rain” started falling, splashing onto the rain-coated people sitting along the runway that ran down the center of the performance space toward the stage. There was the sound of a tire blowing out. Janet and Brad, with rain falling on them, ran down the ramp, the stage became illuminated with more lightning, and we were looking at an old scary castle with massive doors.

Yes, I was about to experience the bizarre The Rocky Horror Show. Yes, that musical. The phenom which would become the cult movie.

Yes, the show that introduced the world to Riff Raff, the live-in butler, his sister Magenta, the maid, Eddie, an unlucky delivery boy who fell victim to unfortunate circumstances, Rocky, the super-stud creation of Dr. Frank N. Furter, a pansexual, cross-dressing mad scientist, who plaintively tells us, in song, that he is “a sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania.”  Oh, and “The Time Warp,” the show’s signature dance number.

During the ridiculousness, both nerdy Brad and virginal Janet are seduced by Frank N’ Furter, the mystery of aliens is revealed, Rocky turns out to be a sweet monster, Phantoms run wild, and poor Eddie gets mangled by an electric saw (relax, we only see the blood spattering).

The Rocky Horror Show is a musical with music, lyrics and book by Richard O’Brien.  It is a bizarre tribute to the science fiction and B horror movies of the mid-1900s. The original London, showing was staged at the Royal Court Theatre (Upstairs) on 19 June 1973, and ran for a total of 2,960 performances. The 1975 Broadway debut at the Belasco Theatre was met with terrible reviews and ran only forty-five showings. (Yes, I saw that bomb as well.)

Fortunately (?) it was adapted into the also badly reviewed 1975 film The Rocky Horror Picture Show. In spite of the reviews, it became a cult hit, with Saturday midnight showing at which customers dress as story characters, yelling out lines and responding to the sexually suggestive lines, squirting each other with water during the rain storm and leaping from their seats to dance “The Time Warp.” (Interested? The Cedar Lee Theatre on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights has regular showings.)

You have to go into the 90-minute gag-fest with the right attitude. This is over the top, farcical, slap-stick material presented with overacting, audience involvement, and no semblance of purpose or message.

As the program states, “When sharing the Rocky experience, the idea is to have fun!’ participants are encouraged to:

DRESS UP: Everyone has a right to wear whatever you wish. We encourage you to come dressed as your favorite character or just come casual. It’s up to you!

CALLBACKS: Callbacks are encouraged and allowed. They should be used to add to the Rocky experience. Don’t try to shout down other people. They might know better lines than you do! (A number of brave souls yelled out frequently.)

THE TIME WARP: You can stand and dance with the cast. Just stay off the stage, please. Doing the Time Warp is essential, but it’s easy because they just tell you how to do the dance in the song! You’re set!

PROPS: You can bring approved props or buy an audience bag at the theater. Some of the standard items are not required for the LIVE version of the show and others just are not allowed in our theater due to safety and cleanup.

The Rocky Horror Show is a perfect script for Patrick Ciamacco, the “curmudgeon-in-charge” (artistic director) of Blank Canvas Theatre. He loves shtick, he revels in slapstick, he lives for the ridiculous. He also knows his loyal audience, who have his same tastes, and has told his cast to let loose, and they do.

Kevin Kelly camps to excess as Frank N’ Furter, Jonathan Kronenberger does a perfect Alfred Hitchcock as the Narrator, Danny Simpson makes us relive the glory days of Peter Loree as Riff Raff, and Amber Revelt is appropriately seductive as the alien Magenta.

Mark Vandevender, he of gym-toned body, shows off his muscles clothed only in gold lamé short shorts, with a nine-inch appendage hanging out, while Ken-doll Eric Fancher (Brad) and Gidget-cute Meg Martinez (Janet) display vocal and acting skills (especially when reaching the heights of their sexual releases) as the star-crossed lovers.

The band (Zach Davis, Jason Stebelton, Keith Turner and Mark Bussinger), under the conducting of Bradley Wyner, gets a little out of hand at times, drowning out the singers, but neither the score nor the lyrics are Tony Award caliber, so the excess doesn’t get in the way.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: If you are in the right mood, and can let loose of your inhibitions, and take The Rocky Horror Show for its intended purpose — a screwball musical comedy, you’ll have a blast! This is not Next to Normal or Bridges of Madison County, just some” The Time Warp” fun!

Blank Canvas’s The Rocky Horror Show runs through Sat 10/28. For tickets and directions go to blankcanvastheatre.com.

[Written by Roy Berko, member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle]

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