The setup: Many people who are or were cool enough to enjoy midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (in continuous release longer than any other motion picture) don't know that it started out as an extremely popular stage musical in London. In the Valley alone, I've seen productions of it from three different theater companies over the years.
Desert Stages Theatre takes a jump to the left with their current run of The Rocky Horror Show, which has one weekend left.
It may seem odd, if you're accustomed to a shadow cast, to see Rocky Horror performed by live human beings without a giant screen full of Tim Curry flickering above their heads. And frankly, if you're just sitting there watching a musical, you are free to notice that this is a terrible, terrible play, writing-wise.
The execution: The script might hold up a little better if I could ever understand the lyrics, which contain some exposition. And after hearing three diverse ensembles spit them out and doing a bit of research, I realize it's creator Richard O'Brien's fault that I can't understand them -- "Rose-tint my world," for example, is a lovely phrase but not something you can set to a bopping beat and expect anyone to make out.
Then there's Eddie, who is the most unsupported deus ex machina ever. And the original mission -- never mind that we never know what it was; how could it have been better than "Give yourself over to absolute pleasure"?
Whatever. This show's durability in the U.S. is a product of how well it met a perfect storm of need when the Baby Boomers took our watered-down rebellion to all those little art houses in the middle of the night. If it hadn't been fun then, it might not be fun now. But it was, and it is. And Desert Stages' Rocky shows off a lot of talent as well as fun, but whether you're a "virgin" or an old fan, you could probably use a wee primer before we get to the review.
It helps to have some grounding in how subversive all the crossdressing and glam and sexual openness (with, really, just a soupçon of horror and maybe three soupçons of sci-fi) was in 1975. Geez, Elton John had only been a star for three years. And Rocky's still considered by some people to be a little on the alternative and raunchy side for a community theater, but it isn't, really. Though it's not for children.
Here are a couple of good places to bone up, as it were, if you wish. What's important to know about the 21st century is that you typically can't just carry a bag of crap into a theater or a movie house (or any other public place, really) and start throwing it -- presenters sell reasonably priced prop bags, and it's still hella fun. Though the presence of glow-sticks during "(There's a Light) Over at the Frankenstein Place" is the very definition of a time warp.
What's important to know about watching the musical as opposed to the film is that a) the script is a bit different and b) sometimes people in the audience act like they're just watching a musical. But you shouldn't feel embarrassed either way.
At Desert Stages, audience costumes are encouraged, as well as shoutouts, callbacks, whatever you grew up calling them, but it's not a huge, huge thing. The band helps out with the five or six lines that are actually funny. Props purchased at the theater are allowed at the 10:30 p.m. Friday performances only, where there's also a lot more yelling and extended, skillful virgin sacrifice, with assistance from the charming members of Midnight Mayhem, the shadow cast from AMC Deer Valley 30's monthly-ish screenings. (You do get half-price props at DST if you're in costume.)
I checked out a Friday late show for you, so that I could let you know -- it's an event, and you'll laugh a lot and bond with strangers and sing and dance yourself sore, and I highly recommend booking seats for August 9 right now before they're gone. (DST is considering making Saturday, August 10's closing show a "special" one, too; check with the box office to confirm.)
But this is a solid production even on a regular night. Much of the oomph comes from director JPaoul C. Clemente's choreography (and the cast's execution thereof) and Rhea and Richard "Mickey" Courtney's costumes, which are as good as the ones they did for Legally Blonde, but with a very different tone.
The Courtneys are terrific at putting together an ensemble such as the Phantoms/Transylvanians and making them look like they belong together but not like the same person dressed all of them, which is a huge plus when it comes to a play's wardrobe.
A touch of steampunk (some corsets and chaps that are a little more distressed; some hats that look universally seedy; a few pairs of goggles that make sense for space travelers) blends surprisingly well with the glam, which glam spans at least three decades rather seamlessly. I've never seen a silky, Diane von Fürstenberg-wrap-dress-style surgical gown on Frank 'N' Furter before, but I'm glad that now I have.
One of the best gorgeous costume examples is on Magenta (Genesis Monique Cuen), who made all the traditional sexy-French-maid Magentas in the crowd feel downright frumpy. You can get some idea of the beautiful details in the photo to the right: the glossy wine-colored frock, the petticoats approaching tutu stiffness, and the opulent brocade bodice with matching cap that looks sort of like a domino mask pushed up onto Cuen's head. Squee! She's kind of a harlequin playing-card pinup. Kudos to Jessica Frieling's hair and wig styling, too, which got even crazier and more diverse after that pic was snapped.
And with respect to the choreography, characters are dancing in whatever appropriate shoes they're able to dance in, which works especially well for this crazy show -- from Frank's mindblowing, multistrapped platform boots to Janet's stiletto Mary Janes that make her exactly as tall as Steve Bane's Rocky (which makes "Touch-A, Touch-A Touch Me" the cutest thing ever, like a duet between salt and pepper shakers). Even Michael Myers, who is barely out of Catholic boys' school and has a little trouble when his Brad changes to pumps, is able to execute a terrific little stripper-style squat.
Vocally, each performer acquits him- or herself respectably, but there are a few issues with mics and mix. The actors' solos are sometimes lost in trumpet riffs from Alexander Tom's hot band. You might want to sit away from the musicians for an optimum sound experience.
The whole cast is solid, but Andy Izquierdo is fearless and commanding, yet vulnerable, as Frank. He brings a youthful, quirky tenderness to the role's bitchy sass, kind of reminding me of both film versions of Willy Wonka (but half-naked as a bonus). This show is Izquierdo's Phoenix debut, according to his program bio, so it's fun to look forward to whatever he does next.
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The verdict: Don't dream it; be it, and go see it.
The Rocky Horror Show continues through Saturday, August 10, at 4720 North Scottsdale Road in Scottsdale. Call 480-483-1664 or order tickets, $22 and $25, here.