Purists may squirm and new-comers will be delighted, but either way this multimedia adaptation of the venerable The Rocky Horror Show will enthrall all aficionados of late-night sexually oriented silliness.
For the five or so people out there unaware of the plot of the cult play turned film (now back in the theater), dorkish Brad Majors (Matthew Trahan) and his prissy bride-to-be, Janet Weiss (Sarah French), stumble into the secluded mansion of Dr. Frank N. Furter (John DiDonna). It's a special night the doctor's most recent science project, Rocky (Andrew Springer), is about to be unveiled. While Rocky cools on the rack, Frank seduces Brad and Janet, and the couple finds that sex really can be fun, even with all the cleanup. Butler Riff Raff (Stephen French) and downstairs maid Magenta (Natalie Kuritzky) really run the mansion, and when Frank tries to pull off a sappy Broadway-style production number, they toast him with lasers and kick out the humans. And just when the party was getting interesting ….
But this show isn't really about plot, is it? It's about the sort of tasteless elegance that introduces the holiday season and leads right down to the elegant tastelessness of Christmas that wraps it up. Starting the night is a pre-show montage of bad 1950s sci-fi trailers and drug-scare films and a great piece about how to behave in the theater. (We are warned that only "dipshits" leave their cell phones on during a play and by God, we got one midway though the first act. We should have pummeled the guy with marshmallows and Vienna sausages.)
DiDonna's Frank N. Furter has a striking Marilyn Manson look and enters on stilts and high-rise kicker boots, all the better to sexually intimidate the cast and crowd. Riff Raff menaces with a weird facial tattoo and random Fairvilla Megastore junk, and supervising the entire show is Steve Schneider yes, Orlando Weekly's own arts & entertainment editor playing a mean guitar accompaniment. (He looked ready to do a windmill up on the tiny corner riser where they've posted him, but he would have broken his hand on the railing.) A too-confident-looking Brad suffers from an endless smirk and never really looks scared by Frank's sexuality; he knows what's coming and secretly looks forward to it.
This techno-thriller is not a slavish reproduction of the original, but has been cleverly squeezed into the tight space of Theatre Downtown. Further cramping us into the seats are eight sexy Phantoms, filling the roles of the actors who waved party favors and did the Time Warp in the film. I thought Turbo (Elton Litzner) did a superb job, eating fire and spitting out a Sting-like aura of nasty sex. The critical music is still there for singalongs, despite some minor revisions.
There was surprisingly little audience participation on the Saturday night I attended, perhaps due to the more sedate theater crowd in attendance, or perhaps because of the strict instructions we received about not throwing things on stage. We did get a paying-customer humiliation exercise when the narrator (Jeff Lindberg) pulled some guy out of his seat and tricked him into stripping down to his T-shirt. It was mild fun, but later we saw something Orlando theater has been missing for a long time: partial nudity. Janet Weiss shows her boobies, but it's a fast flash, so pay attention or you'll miss it.
If you can survive the atmospheric, smoke-filled theater space and the occasional mike problems, this is a must-see experience, if only to keep the saccharine taste of the next holiday extravaganza at bay. Lips? Who needs 'em?