Beat Transvestite

Time-warped Rocky Horror Show pitches camp onstage-- and strikes out

Smeltzer has made some unusual casting choices. His Janet is a dead-on babe, a perky blonde newscaster type who would never have given Brad Majors a second glance. And Rocky Horror, whose muscle-man physique is referred to in several songs and who inspires passion in several of the characters, is played here by 98-pound Chris Childers, an anemic young actor who wouldn't know a deltoid if it entered him from behind. He's a little silly singing "I'm just seven hours old/Truly beautiful to behold," and I wanted to throw a trenchcoat over him after watching him wander around in teeny gold swim trunks for two hours. Alex Gonzales' Frank N. Furter reminded me of Gary Glitter's late-Seventies portrayal of the sweet transvestite, but the rest of the cast members seem content emulating their big-screen counterparts. (Linda Griego may be ripping off Little Nell's movie take on Columbia, but she's still a riveting performer with a great set of pipes.)

Despite all the allusions to the movie, there are some interesting bits: "Eddie's Teddy," in which the cast mourns a scary degenerate who's recently been murdered onstage, winds up as an amusing homage to the opening credits of The Brady Bunch. And Smeltzer has given Rocky's worst song in the show a fun spin: He's staged "Once in a While," a dreary dirge that's usually dropped from the show, as a fantasy sequence in which Brad performs the song as a cheesy lounge lizard.

The main difference between Smeltzer's production and the cast of Rocky regulars who perform the show at the Valley Art's midnight screenings each week seems to be about $40,000. "I know a lot of people will have a hard time telling the difference between the Valley Art cast and the real live play," he admits. "But we've got computer-driven images from old science-fiction films and a live band. Plus the Valley Art cast has really deteriorated over the years."

When I ask one of the kids at the midnight screening of the movie if she plans to see the musical, she groans. "Look, they're just us with better costumes and a tech crew," she says, puffing on a clove cigarette. "And you're missing the whole point. This isn't about a movie or a play. No one cool is going to pay 18 bucks to see a play when they can come here and be an experience."

The Rocky Horror Show stage production continues through Sunday, November 9, at Valley Art Theatre, 509 South Mill in Tempe. For more details, see the Performance listing in Thrills.

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