In a way, the new presentation of The Rocky Horror Show at the Capitol Theatre in Windsor is a return to roots. Originally a live musical comedy, Rocky Horror opened in London in 1973, and in 1975 was made into The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Quietly shelved by 20th Century Fox, the film was regarded as too bizarre for general release. Within a few years, midnight showings had built an unprecedented cult following, with audiences yelling at the screen and throwing rice, confetti and toast. This cultural phenomenon now comes full circle with Korda Productions’ and Mindbox Creative Group’s new musical production, which coincides with Rocky Horror’s 30th anniversary.
For Rocky Horror “virgins” unfamiliar with the story, Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, a young, straight-laced couple, drive into a storm. A wrong turn and a flat tire send them to the castle of Dr. Frank N. Furter, a sexually omnivorous transvestite-mad scientist who is bringing a creature, Rocky Horror, to life. Brad and Janet find themselves sucked into a disorienting world of powerful sexual urges.
When it opened 30 years ago, Rocky Horror offered a ribald look at both Eisenhower-era sexual repression and the cliches of post-hippie sexual liberation. Rocky Horror was edgy in a time that was relatively open-minded.
As for the notorious Rocky Horror audience participation, there is a strict policy at the Windsor show: The establishment welcomes patrons in costume but discourages high jinks, even searching handbags for rice at the door.
Despite this policy, if the opening night is any indication of the later performances, the production can be more chaotic than an episode of “The Jerry Springer Show.” Groups in the audience shout “Asshole!” and “Slut!” when Brad and Janet are mentioned, and loudly groan with boredom when the narrator takes the stage. The actors generally bear it with aplomb, sometimes guiding audience response playfully.
At other times, the actors and audience trade lines with something approaching wit. Insisting on accompanying Brad through the rain to look for a phone at the castle, Janet says, “I’m coming with you.” [“That’ll be a first!”] “The owner of that phone might be a beautiful woman.” [“He is!”]
Though talk-back and sing-along offer possibilities, staging Rocky Horror has its drawbacks. When so much hinges on knowing the whole story by heart, how do you fit in something new? For Rocky Horror fans, everything is inevitably compared to the movie.
Transcending the limitations means making deliberate choices. For instance, there is a noticeable glam-to-goth makeover in this production. One meatier choice is deciding to bookend the show with Brad and Janet as a couple of theatergoers, who start as though on a friendly date, but part from each other apprehensively at the end as changed people.
This production has a good deal of humorous “slap and tickle” in it, but despite the carnal pantomime, the effect is cheeky, not decadent, winking at lust instead of embodying it. Camp means we’re in on the joke, and that’s definitely part of the Rocky Horror experience. Still, the job of an actor is changed when winking at the audience.
For instance, Mark Lefebvre plays Dr. Frank N. Furter with a nasal queenliness and a self-satisfied swish. It’s funny, but it’s partly a missed opportunity, because Furter does have something dark and threatening to him. After all, he isn’t the hero; he’s the brutal and distressed mad scientist fated to be destroyed.
And for a performance that’s supposed to be edgy, it’s confusing to see what should be leering, demented phantoms played by squeaky-clean kids whose fresh-scrubbed faces shine through the fright makeup.
Terry Raisbeck portrays Riff Raff truly, as though channeling Rocky Horror creator Richard O’Brien’s screen performance. James Kitzul and Danielle Boissonneault are believably ingenuous as Brad and Janet. Terry Ware is the charming narrator, who on opening night endured prolonged catcalling with a graceful mien.
Yet it was an opening night haunted by technical difficulties. The body microphones, strapped into skimpy costumes, sometimes malfunctioned. When they did, not all actors were equal to the challenge of making themselves heard.
The show features sci-fi-inspired smoke and lighting effects, including appropriately cheesy low-tech Flash Gordon-style sparks at the end when the “castle” blasts off for outer space. Some elements, such as costuming and choreography, lack flair, but the prudent producers got one very important thing right — great accompaniment from live rock musicians.
All things considered, those willing to go “on a night out” across the Detroit-Windsor tunnel will find a faithful and fun homage to bad behavior, and possibly an out-of-control audience.
The Rocky Horror Show is at the Capitol Theatre, 121 University Ave. W., Windsor, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through Oct. 18. For more information, call 519-253-7729.Michael Jackman is a Detroit-based freelance writer. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org