“The Rocky Horror Show” has lost none of its edge or raucous high spirits since it became an international sensation 40 years ago with young people showing up at midnight showings of the film version in drag, wearing leather and fishnet stockings, shouting lines back at the performers, and throwing things at the stage. What’s different in the Lakewood Playhouse performance is that the audience is a mixture of excited young people and older folks reliving the fun of “The Rocky Horror Show” that has never ceased.
Playhouse managing artistic director John Munn, who plays the narrator in the show, encourages audience members to shout back, but not throw things at the actors, and the audience the night I attended gleefully complied. They shouted insults at Munn, who shouted back with improvised retorts, and they called Brad (Jake Atwood) an idiot and Janet (Jenna McRill) a slut.
The theater even sells (for $5) audience participation goodie gags with special items to be used during the show. Proceeds from sales of the goodie bags go toward the Lakewood Playhouse Annual Friends Fund Campaign.
So what is “The Rocky Horror Show”? I would say it is a parody of the 1975 film, which was so bad it was good, but the stage musical preceded the film by two years. The opening musical number, “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” sung with great style and flare by LaNita Hudson as Usherette, announces the show as a parody of bad 1950s sci-fi movies.
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“Rocky Horror” is the story of Brad and Janet, naive innocents whose car has a flat on a dark and stormy night. When they go to the nearby castle to use the phone, they get immersed in a night of debauchery with Frank N. Furter (Brandon Ehrenheim), “a sweet transvestite from Transylvania,” and his minion of “Phantoms,” and weirdos. In a takeoff on “Frankenstein,” Frank N. Furter is building a man in his laboratory.
The play is a celebration of uninhibited sex. It pushes the limits of acceptable on-stage sexuality to the edge. Most of all it is funny, campy, and filled with great rock ’n’ roll music.
Ehrenheim is an imposing figure in his black underwear and stockings. It helps that he is over 7 feet tall, without the platform shoes. And he sings beautifully.
Atwood is amazing in the way he transforms from a nerdy idiot (the audience calls him out rightly) to a wild sex fiend. McRill undergoes a similar transformation, giving credence to the audience’s labeling of her. Brad and Janet spend most of the second act dressed in nothing but white underwear.
Xander Layden rocks the house as Eddie in the wildest rock song in the show, “Hot Patootie,” and later — outstanding actor that he is — he appears with a radically different voice and appearance as Dr. Scott, whom the audience keeps calling “Great Scott.”
Tony L. Williams, whom the audience might recognize as Gary Coleman in “Avenue Q,” is Rocky, the creature Frank N. Furter created, a muscular, handsome man who appears in a gold lamé suit that leaves little to the imagination. He has great moves and a strong voice. Seldom will audiences see dance numbers that comically simulate sexual moves so graphically as Rocky does with Janet and with Frank N. Furter.
Other stand-out actors are Hudson in her double role as Usherette and Magenta, Gary Chambers as Riff-Raff and Winnie Bean as Columbia.
The band, No Picnic, is great. They’re led by keyboardist Josh Zimmerman and driven by the hard rhythms laid down by drummer Tai Taitano.
Finally, I can’t praise Kayla Crawford’s choreography enough, and kudos to set designer Erin Manza Chanfrau and costume designer Diane Runkel.
I highly recommend “The Rocky Horror Show,” unless you’re easily offended by overt sexuality.
Check Alec Clayton’s blog at alecclayton.blogspot.com for reviews of other area theatrical productions.
The Rocky Horror Show
When: 7 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 11:59 p.m. Jan. 20 and 27, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Jan. 29.
Where: Lakewood Playhouse, Lakewood Towne Center, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood.
Tickets: $30 adults; $27 seniors (65 and older); $28 military; $22 students and educators; pay what you can Jan. 19.
Information: 253-588-0042, lakewoodplayhouse.org.