Give Yourself Over To Absolute Pleasure: The Rocky Horror Show Comes To The DTC

DTC's THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW - Cast - by Karen Almond (4)by Andrew Chalk       photos by by Karen Almond

“Part play, part rock show, part party” was how Director Joel Ferrell described The Rocky Horror Show to me last night after the showing at the Dallas Theater Center (DTC). His production certainly treats Richard O’Brien’s masterpiece as such. There are first-rate musicians belting out the familiar but pleasurable numbers. A strong and enthusiastic cast animating the story. And an engaging and contrived stage design to build it all on. Little wonder that row upon row of the audience were on their feet when Time Warp came around and all the audience interjections familiar to attendees of the film version (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) peppered the dialog as well. Sometimes these were used to good effect, as when an interrupted Riff Raff improvised “as that lady said” to a Frank N. Furter cross examination.  

The Rocky Horror is a tough play to stage because every attendee (and every reader of this review) has seen the movie and judges all the players by the actors in that. The plot in the play, which predated the 1975 movie by two years, is actually slightly different. Joel Ferrell, it turns out, has never seen the play, only the movie. Little surprise that his production is the closest to the movie of the three stagings that I have seen. In the 1980s, the “New Arts Theater” in Dallas’ West End (back when it targeted high-end restaurants and culture) staged the edgiest with bare breasts and a band positioned underneath the stage behind a grill at audience level, thereby making them detectable but not clearly visible. At the end, backlights were turned on, revealing the players. The multi-level design was a model of how to use a small space effectively. Unfortunately, even the popularity of that excellent show couldn’t prevent me, and other season ticket holders, from becoming unsecured creditors of the theater on its subsequent bankruptcy filing (along with just about everything else in the West End).

Casa Manana staged the play in Fort Worth over a decade ago — a Fort Worth premiere and only some quarter century after the original. It was a well-produced show that stuck to the original play. No attempts at “contemporary relevance”.

DTC's THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW - Dan Domenech, Chris McQueen - by Karen Almond

The DTC production is the most ostentatious. It is also the best-funded, and ostentation loves a big budget. Whether you are a Rocky Horror virgin, or an avid Rocky Horror Picture Show attendee, you will find it great fun.

The original play was written and scored by Richard O’Brien, an out of work actor who had appeared in Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair. It may indicate its immediate critical acceptance that its first staging was in London’s Royal Court Theatre in 1973 (remember Watergate?). This is equivalent to your first play starting on Broadway. It was to run for seven years. Moreover, 20th Century Fox quickly picked up the film rights and released The Rocky Horror Picture Show in 1975. That flopped on first release and was put on the midnight movie circuit. This eventually led to the phenom’ we all know of, making it the longest running film release in history and spectacularly profitable for Fox, and for the actors through their residuals.

In the United States, the play ran for just 45 performances on Broadway in 1975 (however, the critics liked it. Giving it one Tony nomination and three Drama Desk nominations). Despite slow initial audience acceptance, by 1980 it was touring the country. Now it is shown almost continuously somewhere in the U.S. and there is a web site to track performances.

Ferrell’s DTC production is built around a solid cast, albeit without any memorable breakthrough performances. Alex Organ as Brad Majors is the most convincing depiction, looking part upper-crust, part CPA, and naturally dispensing hapless mannerisms befitting how out of place he is amid Transylvanians. The character of Janet Weiss is brought up to date by Morgan Mabry Mason who looks every bit a teenager of the under exercised and overfed current generation and not the willowy figure of a young Susan Sarandon. In the same vein, the character of Dr. Everett Scott changes gender and becomes African-American in the personage of the able Liz Mikel. Generally, it is surprising how fresh the plot looks today, 40 years on, while so much 70’s popular culture has become quaint or corny.

DTC's THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW - Morgan Mabry Mason, Alex Organ, Dan Domenech - by Karen Almond

The movie has a notable lag just after the midpoint before the build up to the dramatic conclusion. Farrell’s solution is to have Frank N. Furter sign autographs for the two ‘straightest’ looking members of the theater audience. I would have skipped this diversion from the script as it takes him out of character, to be just an emcee. Generally, Dan Domenech plays a believable Frank N. Furter, and with increasing confidence as the script goes on But watching him does remind you just how nuanced was Tim Curry’s performance in the film. The leering eye movements and relaxed timing in, say, Sweet Transvestite are missing here.

I would also have followed the film in deleting the awful Once in a While.

The thing that accounts for Rocky Horror’s enduring and broad social following is the quality of the songs. This was brought into graphic relief for me early this year when I saw the opposite. A new musical with A-list backing, prime location, a much richer plot, but not a single memorable song. It ran less than seven weeks. Ferrell’s musicians are also the stars of this show. Interestingly, one, Kwinton Gray on keyboards, started music playing gospel. Rocky Horror must have been quite a switch.

So book now for the run through October 19th. You are going to consider it one of the best tickets this year. Two special midnight performances are scheduled for Friday, September 26 and Friday, October 17. Tickets to The Rocky Horror Show are on sale now online and by phone at (214) 880-0202.

 

9 Comments

Filed under Andrew Chalk

9 responses to “Give Yourself Over To Absolute Pleasure: The Rocky Horror Show Comes To The DTC

  1. christie vela

    my question for you though is, is the wine okay?

  2. Stephanie

    Your comments about Janet are completely uncalled for. She happens to be a very heathy and fit woman who has worked very hard for her body. I assume you base your “standards” on women by the skelton-like, photoshopped images of super models nowadays. I find it interesting that men are rarely ever critiqued for their bodies in live theatre. Just food for thought.

  3. Jonathan Bragg

    Commenting about the “under exercised and overfed current generation” in the way that you did comes across as shaming the actress. Nobody specifically directs their browser to read this “review” to get your thought on teenage obesity. It’s a theater review. Start writing like one. And comparing ANY actress to Susan Sarandon is utterly inane. Ms. Sarandon would slap you across the face for those poorly chosen words. Also, who critiques physical features without ANY actual critique of their performance? You should be ashamed of yourself.

  4. Nate Collins

    The commentary regarding Janet seems out of character for a reputable review of this production. You seem to have enjoyed the production, yet your “review” of Janet is utterly negative and is not an actual critique of her performance.

    The performances I’ve seen with Mrs. Mason have consistently been phenomenal and I am excited to see her in a lead role with DTC. I imagine she has worked extremely hard for this production and I am certain her performance is positively wonderful.

    In the future, I would like to request that your reviews remain based on the performance of the production and not include unnecessary comments professing your fascination with today’s photoshopped vision of the female body.

  5. “I said that she was representative of her generation, and that generation has a much higher BMI than was the case in the 1960s. My standard was a generational comparison. See, for example: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/obesity_child_07_08/obesity_child_

    You’re backpedaling. Do you know Ms. Mason’s BMI? You do not. “Under-exercised and overfed” is tinged with a meanness and nastiness that is completely unnecessary. If you had chosen instead to celebrate the diversity of the cast of all shapes and sizes, I would have respected you more.

    I suggest you stick to reviewing wine.

  6. Kelly H

    I am appalled that you felt the need to attack this young actress’s body rather then focus on the play itself. You are part of the problem of why women have a hard time feeling beautiful no matter what size they are.

  7. Dustin

    What kind of reviewer are you? Stick to wine if all you are going to talk about is a full body. Whether you admit it or not, you absolutely are body shaming and putting down this beautiful and incredible performer. She is not only one of the kindest people you will ever meet, but definitely one of the most talented. The worst part about your review is that you not only called her “under exercised and overfed” (aka “fat”) but you never mention anything about her actual performance or talent. Isn’t that the point of reviewing a show? Just because you’re a “critic” doesn’t mean you have to be an insensitive asshole who writes degrading (and untrue in this case) things about women. I’ve never met you, and hope I never do, but I highly encourage you to check your intentions and motives before you publish something for the whole world to see. It’s a reflection on you. This actress was cast in this role because she’s perfect for it – in every way. What you said is not professional and frankly the whole review is unintelligent. It was a personal low blow that had nothing to do with the show. No decent hearted person speaks of women like that for no good reason. If I were your boss, you’d be gone. If I decided to keep you for some odd reason, you better know how I like my coffee.

  8. Nancy

    I cannot disagree with any of the comments already posted. Please do your job and review the Performance, not the physical attributes of the actor since your vision of what is “under exercised” might be a little skewed. Did you like their voice, their acting choices, their interpretation of the character? Did you think they were more than “able”? Your choice of adjectives astounds me. A review that started off intelligently veered horribly off course. Hopefully you will right the ship the next time you put pen to paper.

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