Friday, June 13, 2008

Harlequin ‘Horror Show’ is raunchy, rocking hoot

Published in The News Tribune, June 13, 2008
pictured, top: Bret Beaudry as Frank 'n' Furter and the ensemble cast; bottom: Adrian David Robinson as Rocky, photos by Tor Clausen

Depending on your taste in musical entertainment, Harlequin Productions’ “The Rocky Horror Show” may be the best musical you’ll see this year or any other year. But it is not for people who are faint of heart or easily offended.

This show is loud and raucous. It is one of the sexiest plays I have ever seen, skirting right up to the edge of what is allowable in public. The sets, costumes and lighting are outlandish and fabulous (kudos to scenic designer Jill Carter; lighting, Nat Rayman; and costume designers Darren Mills and Asa Brown Thornton). There are revolving platforms and a working elevator that lights up like the Las Vegas strip, projected film and cartoon images, strobe lights, trap doors and lots of smoke. The sets and lighting are comparable to those of “Young Frankenstein” and “Spamalot” but on a smaller scale, and don’t lose much in the comparison even without the million dollar budgets those extravaganzas had.

Every summer Harlequin presents a rock ’n’ roll show that has the audiences on their feet and dancing in the aisles. The tradition began with their first production of “Rocky Horror” in the summer of 1995. I didn’t get to see that one, but I know it was a smash hit that was talked about around Olympia for years after. Most audience members have seen the movie version, which has been a midnight cult staple in movie houses all over America since 1975, with audiences coming in costume, shouting out lines before the actors say them, opening umbrellas, flashing lighters and in general making the audience participation into an even more campy entertainment than the film itself.

The stage version, which preceded the film by two years, is nothing like that. And yet, in some ways it is exactly like that. One of the unnamed “Transylvanians” opens the play by warning the audience that certain things will not be tolerated – such as spraying liquids or throwing things on the stage, which could endanger the live actors or damage expensive electronic equipment. The Transylvanian also demands that the audience shout out key words whenever certain characters are mentioned.

On cue, the narrator (Jason Haws) appears on a revolving balcony and the audience shouts out “Boring!”

Haws is a terrific narrator, ad-libbing to audience taunts and jeers with style and wit. He is droll and inventive, and, at one point opening night, he cracked up at a particularly clever comment from someone in the audience. Which brings up another point: It is impossible to tell whether his comments are ad libs or scripted or whether or not some of the hecklers are plants. But you don’t have time to contemplate that in this fast-paced musical.

For anyone who has never seen the movie or the play, here’s the story line: A young couple, Brad and Janet (Casey Raiha and Melissa Fleming) have a flat tire on a deserted road and walk to a nearby castle to see if they can use a phone. A monster named Riff Raff (Russ Holm) ushers them into the castle, where they meet Dr. Frank-n-Furter (Bret Beaudry) a mad transsexual who is creating a man in his laboratory. It’s a rather obvious takeoff on Frankenstein and, less obviously, as the program points out, the Adam and Eve story with Frank-n-Furter as the snake in the garden. The creature is Rocky (Adrian David Robinson, a short, muscular man wearing a revealing baby-blue costume). Frank-n-Furter forces Brad and Janet to stay overnight, and a lot of people in the castle have sex with one another. That’s about it plotwise. It’s basically a plotless parody of all the bad horror and sci-fi movies of the ’50s with a lot of sex and a lot of rock ’n’ roll.

Brad and Janet are nerdy innocents. Raiha is the perfect dorky Brad. (Remember him as a similarly dorky Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors” at Capital Playhouse?) Fleming is dainty and sweet-looking with a just-right mixture of sexiness and innocence – until she loses her innocence. Fleming and Raiha both have wide ranging knockout voices.

Beaudry, an actor from Chicago who has never before played on a South Sound stage, is marvelous as Dr. Frank-n-Furter. He is tall and handsome, and he struts and minces in his high heels and goes all sweet and lovable and then screams with a demanding voice that will not be ignored.

Also outstanding are Megan Carver as Columbia, Sara Flotree as Magenta, Holm as Riff Raff and Robinson as Rocky. In fact, the entire cast and the orchestra, and the dancing choreographed by Nikki Womac, are all marvelous.

They brought down the house opening night, ending with a long and loud standing ovation while many audience members leapt on stage to dance with cast members.

Warning: there is simulated sex and raunchy humor

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through July 6
WHERE: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia
TICKETS: $34-$38; rush tickets $12-$20 half-hour before curtain
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151;

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