By Beki Pineda
THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. Book, music and lyrics by Richard O’Brien; directed by Colin Roybal. Produced by Equinox Theatre Company (presented at the Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo St., Denver) through July 1. Tickets available at 303-477-5977 or equinoxtheatredenver.com.
Just as some moviegoers thrive on how many cars get blown up and how many buildings fall down while others prefer the visual retelling of a classic novel, there are people who “get” ROCKY HORROR and those who don’t. Unfortunately, I am one of those who don’t. At least, until this production.
For the first time, it became a little more than people in unexplained costumes jumping around and behaving badly. Don’t get me wrong, the Equinox production still features people in vintage punk-rock costumes, and they still do all the naughty things the script calls for. But strangely, it made a little more sense this time. It piqued my curiosity enough to try to find out why other people love it so.
Richard O’Brien, an actor, wrote the script over one unemployed winter, gave it to a director he had worked with on a movie, and the first production took place in London in 1973. It started small but moved to progressively larger theaters, playing for nearly six years. The movie, which added scenes, came out in 1975, followed in short order by the cultural phenomenon of “shadow casts”—live actors lip-synching the movie as it happens behind them on the screen.
The play (and movie) are both a mashup of and a tribute to the unintentional humor of the B-movies of the 1930s-‘50s, schlocky horror films, and ’50s rock ‘n’ roll. Born in the era of glam rock as personified by David Bowie, the costumes predated punk rock and Carnaby Street. The Equinox production copies the original costumes as much as budgets would allow and, thanks to the ingenuity of costume designer Jenn Rollins, the cast looks both authentic and tacky.
Little point in trying to explain the plot; it’s a convoluted take on the “dark and stormy night” theme of so many of our favorite murder mysteries. But once that castle door opens and the innocent couple are led inside, everything gets wild. We learn late in the script that the creatures inhabiting the castle are mostly aliens or Frankenstein’s-monster–like creatures. In a bit of gender bending, the “built” muscleman Rocky is played by Chelsea O’Grady, who has enough muscles to make the device work and a voice that carries several of the songs.
It was fun to watch Brad and Janet (the innocents, played by Mike Moran and Holly Joyce Dalton) lose their inhibitions and their clothes. Katelyn Kendrick stepped out of the norm by creating a somewhat feminine Riff Raff, a role usually played by a man. The dignified (until “The Time Warp” started playing) Narrator, who “explains” the sociological aspects of the situation, was played by Joey Wishnia in a tongue-in-cheek performance.
Of course, the show generally succeeds or not on the portrayal of the transsexual Transylvanian, Dr. Frank-N-Furter. John White has made quite a splash playing cross-dressing roles since arriving in Denver; Ernestina in HELLO, DOLLY, Dorothy in the GOLDEN GIRLS trilogy, and recently Zazza in LA CAGE have all enjoyed his interpretations. He brings his big-hearted, big-boobed, unafraid self to this role as well, getting into the camp completely and obviously enjoying himself immensely. His enthusiasm spills out into the audience on frequent occasions and he leads everyone in dancing the Time Warp as a finale.
If you are one of those who “gets” ROCKY HORROR, you’ll really enjoy this production. Even if you’re not, you’ll enjoy this one more than the last one you were dragged to.
WOW factor: 8.5