“Are you a virgin?” You may be asked this by one of the cast members as you enter the theatre at The Motor House to see Iron Crow Theatre’s raucous and riotous production of The Rocky Horror Show, the musical on which the classic film is based. And if you are a virgin, meaning you have never seen Rocky Horror before? Well, prepare to branded (I won’t reveal how) and have your cherry popped during this two-hour camp classic that includes everything from audience call outs, cast ad libs, and a goodie bag containing, among other things, rice, confetti and a water gun to toss and spray at appropriate moments in the show.
When I was just a wee queerling, I went to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show at a mall in a suburb of Richmond, Virginia, almost every Saturday at midnight. And I saw the 2000 Broadway production. I can confidently say, without hesitation, that I have never had as much fun seeing this material as I did seeing Iron Crow’s version.
Now, no one goes to Rocky Horror for the story, which involves a young couple, Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, whose car breaks down and leads them to seek refuge in a castle inhabited by aliens. After all these years, I still find it incomprehensible, especially in the second act. We go to Rocky Horror because it is a phenomenon. We go to hear the excellent score by Richard O’Brien. We go to participate and be part of a community. But most of all, we go to have fun. And this production has all of these things in spades, from Betty O’Hellno and Whiskey Joy’s deliciously campy costumes, to the multi-purpose set (also by Betty O’Hellno), to the smart and surprising lighting by Kel Millione, to the top-notch performances.
I don’t think a production of Rocky Horror can be successful without a strong performance by the actor playing the role of Frank ‘N’ Furter, the transvestite woman of the house And it’s not an easy task to erase from he memory the iconic performance of Tim Curry, who originated the part on stage and also played it in the film. But Leo Grinberg rises to the task and surmounts it. He gets the narcissism and ruthlessness of the character, but his performance reminds us that at heart, Frank is the ultimate showman and is most at home with an act and an audience. He could very well be the transsexual alien love child of Joan Crawford and P.T. Barnum.
In a similar vein, the challenge with doing this show is to not fall in to the trap of copying the iconic film. Director Sean Elias does this most successfully with his casting choices. As the innocent couple that just wants to use the phone, Nick Fruit as Brad and Sarah Burton as Janet have created fully fleshed out characters that have an emotional arc, without sacrificing any of the wit or giddiness inherent in the script. Elias has cast the house servants Riff Raff and Magenta, who may be brother and sister, as African American. Scean Aaron, in a hilarious wig, plays Riff Raff as a prissy queen who just cannot be bothered. Danielle Harrow, who has a killer voice, plays Magenta as the quieter, but no less sinister maybe sister. Both the Narrator (Nancy Linden) and Eddie/Dr. Scott are played by women. This play on gender roles reflects the queering of tradition that seems to be inherent to Iron Crow’s work. Similar swapping of gender was also explored in their hit production of The Wild Party, seen earlier this season.
In addition to eschewing memories of the film, Elias’ work is clever and swift. The staging of “Touch-a Touch-a Touch” me was particularly smart (the gyrating, bouncy and often X rated choreography is by Quae Simpson). And Eddie may have the best entrance seen in some time during the song “Hot Patootie.” To reveal more would ruin the many surprises that are in store. But I think Elias made a significant mistake by having the narrator sit in the middle of the audience. Those sitting behind her, couldn’t see what she was doing and her voice projected toward the stage, not away from it making many of her lines inaudible. I hope he will consider, this when Iron Crow stages Rocky Horror.
Having reviewed Iron Crow’s first show of their season and now this, I am extremely impressed with their high production values and organization. This is a serious theatre company and they deserve our support. That being said, it’s a shame that The Rocky Horror Show’s run is so brief. You only have five more chances to see it. It’s familiar enough that fans will have a ball. And for the newbies, don’t worry. It won’t hurt a bit…unless you’re in to that sort of thing.
Running Time: Two hours with one 15-minute intermission