While I’ve gone many times to see a movie version of a musical, I’ve rarely gone and seen the live version of a movie. This is not, of course, the order of genesis of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Rocky Horror Show … but back when I was going to see the midnight movies in Phoenix, Arizona in 1983, I had no idea that this clunky, disjointed film had anything to do with a stage musical – it was just a fun, late night party with all of my freaky friends. Dress up, sing along, throw toast … in a land without pantos, this was as much fun as you could have in a theater (especially if you were under the drinking age, not that people didn’t sneak booze in). I was never so advanced as to make it to the group of people who stood in front of the screen performing along with the show, but that required more dedication than I had, plus your own car.
Ah well. Fast forward (well, slow forward) thirty years to 2013 … and the Rocky Horror Show was coming to Wimbledon (well, it’s still there as of the time I am writing this). I couldn’t be convinced to go see the movie again, but I’d come to wonder: what was it like as a musical? How did it fit together? Were there songs I hadn’t heard, as happened with Chicago? Did the extraordinarily bad dialogue of the movie have its origins in the play or was it just the most god awful adaptation ever? Were there cut scenes? What might the dance bits look like with actual talent performing them (not that Little Nell wasn’t amazing in the movie, but on stage she must have been a sight!)?
However, what I NEVER thought to question was that this was going to be a STAGE SHOW and NOT a recreation of the movie going experience! So there I wound up, underdressed (with neither fishnets nor a feather boa to lighten up my winter attire), surrounded by WILD AND CRAZY YOUNGSTERS who were in gold top hats, corsets, the occasional “good girl” sweater set, and many clutching sacks full of props. I had a real laugh early on with the five kids in front of me all pulled out their newspapers to cover their heads during the rain scene. And the talking back to the performers! My God, the atmosphere it created was QUITE different with a real live actor there who was able to either pretend to ignore you OR talk back, either using it as a chance to mock you (“That’s my mother”) or to just go on a comedic riff (“Yes, down like my career … sad that it’s all come to this”). I was amazed at the tension it created, and actually a bit bothered that it was happening at all … I actually wanted to see the show as it was written, not as it evolved. But this was not to be, and clearly the Narrator (Philip Franks, who had the worst of it) had had a chance to warm up to it, as he appeared to not be thrown off stride at any point by the heckling and had even worked up some clever barbs to toss back out into the audience.
As it turns out, while the Rocky Horror Show is quirky (kind of a cross between Little Shop of Horrors and Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens), it did actually work pretty well as a stage show. The whole thing comes off much more clearly (than the movie did for me) as an homage to the bad science fiction movies of the 50s, with a bit of a 70s, post-women’s/gay/sexual liberation twist. Maybe I should have been insulted that a transvestite was set up to be a villain … or that, at the end, everyone has to show that they’re liberated because they’re willing to let themselves cross dress. Were minds really so little when this show was written? But it was really fun, not in the least because, well, phoar, Frank N Furter (Oliver Thornton) was just as yummy as the character in the movie – and possibly a little bit more naughty and decidedly better muscled. Meanwhile, without the horrible camera angles making everything swoopy and dizzy, I was able to focus on what I wanted to … so Frank chasing Rocky (Rhydian) around the lab was really very comic, Eddie (Joel Montague)’s big number could be really appreciated as a 50s number, and giant green lasers shooting around the auditorium made the whole thing very energizingly rock and roll. Plus Janet (Roxanne Pallett) had some pipes. “Sing it!”
If you want to be picky, you might point out that the stage dressings were very thin (what, two set versions, fleshed out with a cardboard car, a castle/church, and some mylar curtains?) and that the “big ensemble” feeling wasn’t really happening with only four supernumeraries. But hey, when it was time to do the Time Warp, did not the whole audience (in the half of the auditorium where people were sitting when I went) jump to our feet? Yes we did, and a good time was had by all. It wasn’t meant to be deep and it was very, very entertaining, and sexier than I expected – in short, a good cure for the January blues, ideally priced at £10, and perfect with four shots of vodka mixed with J2O.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013. It continues at the New Wimbledon theater through January 26th, then tours through October 2013.)
Tags: Cambridge Corn Exchange, Edinburgh Playhouse, Glasgow Kings, Grimsby Auditorium, Leeds Grand, Liverpool Empire, Manchester Opera House, new wimbledon theater, Oliver Thornton, Philip Franks, Rhydian, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Rocky Horror Show, ROXANNE PALLETT, Sheffield Lyceum, Sunderland Empire, York Grand Opera House