But I had never seen the stage show. In fact, I didn't even realize that there was a stage show, on which the movie was based, until a friend mentioned at some point that she had been in a production of it while in college.
Now, fast-forward to 2016, and my daughter's teen musical theater class through Berkeley Rep School of Theatre is doing scene study from "The Rocky Horror Show." She's seen the movie. She's learning the songs. And now I suddenly realize that three different local theaters are putting on productions of the stage show, right around Halloween. And we were kind of looking for something to do after seeing the matinee of "The Hard Problem" at ACT on Saturday afternoon, so what makes more sense that "Rocky Horror" in the Mission?
The PlaySeriously? I'm not going to summarize, even a little bit. If you don't know the show already, I don't think I could possibly make sense of it. It's less of a show than a cultural phenomenon. On one hand, I don't think the shock value the show had when it came out 40 years ago carries over. The whole fluid, pan-sexual, cross-dressing, gender-bending thing is pretty mainstream, at least in the Bay Area. Indeed, the real challenge is kind of the same one faced when producing any familiar, (dare I say) classic play: everyone knows it, they have expectations. You have to meet those expectations on some level, and yet you also have to do something fresh or it gets tired. You end up with Yet Another Christmas Carol or something.
This ProductionI gather this play is something of an annual event for Ray of Light Theatre, a company of which I was not aware until now. Of course, if you need drag performers, San Francisco is an excellent place to look. And indeed, from the top of the bill down, you find experienced drag performers. The lead role, Dr. Frank-N-Furter, is played by D'Arcy Drollinger, who is not only an experienced drag performer, but also the proprietor of a cabaret nightclub, Oasis. Many of the other performers are regulars there. So not only is this not your average community theater putting on a show, but they do it every year, so there is experience and continuity.
Anyway, I didn't know any of this. I came in with my expectations pretty low. The venue is the Victoria Theatre, which appears to be a converted movie theater, but it's a pretty nice house with a good sized stage, though the proscenium arch is a bit intrusive to those sitting on the side and up front, as we were. On the other hand, we had an excellent view of the sign-language interpreters, who were hilarious. The visible props (and the scenery, once the curtain opened) were a little cheesy, but then, this is Rocky Horror: just go with it.
And then the show started. From the opening moment, I was stunned by the quality of the performance. Melinda Camparo as the Usherette sings the opening number ("Science Fiction Double Feature") extremely well. And when Magenta (Andrea Dennison-Laufter) and Columbia (Alexandra Feifers) join her, it's clear that this is not your average musical ensemble. They're expressive and making contact with the audience, singing and dancing strongly.
And frankly, that's the story of the show: there really are no weak spots in the cast. They all sing and dance well. They act their parts well, even when they are background "phantoms." The choreography is pretty intricate, but well executed. So color me surprised: I enjoyed the show, and eventually decided the initial impression of cheesiness was intentional, true to the 1950s B-movie sci-fi origins of the plot. It worked.
Bottom LineIt was terrific. I didn't expect much, and I was blown away by the quality of the show. Good acting, singing, dancing, choreography, costumes. And perhaps best of all, the focus is on the show. Sure, there are some bits where the audience gets a little involved, particularly when the narrator (Steven Hess) is working. But it's nothing like the movie with a whole side show and incessant interruption from the crowd. It might have been different at the later (11 pm) show, but at our 7 pm show, there were a few clever lines and a little bit of interjection from the audience, but mostly we could enjoy the show, do the Time Warp, and just enjoy.
So I guess I have to re-evaluate my position on "Rocky Horror" in general. I would say this stage show was much more fun than either of the times I saw the movie, and from the description, more fun than my family members had at a recent midnight viewing in Albany.
One last note that I appreciated: the cast is quite diverse, gender-balanced, etc. But what I really appreciated is that not everyone was a tall, skinny dancer. There were all sorts of body types represented in the cast, and I thought that was really refreshing.
The show runs through November 5th this year. Check it out! You could do much worse than an evening with dinner in the Mission and seeing this show.