…In celebrating their “Lucky 13th” Anniversary in Fullerton California, “The Maverick Theater” presents the return of Richard O’Brien’s world-renowned cult musical hit, “The Rocky Horror Show”! Featuring the book, music and lyrics by O’Brien (who also co-starred in both the film and the early productions in London, Los Angeles and Broadway,) this sinfully enjoyable theatrical salute to vintage rock music, and “Grade B” horror and sci-fi motion-pictures, served as the basis for the blockbuster “Midnight” movie that steadfastly persists in setting attendance records as the longest continually shown release in cinema history! Performed in their stylish “Cabaret Theater”, the direction here is by “Maverick Theater” founder, Brian Newell with Choreography by Kelsie Blackwell. On opening weekend, Newell mentioned that along with being a dozen-plus-one years since their moving into this space, it’s also the 5th time they’ve produced this show in a span of 16 years–and it always proves very popular. This time should be no different, because this particular mounting truly is a more ‘poly-sexual’ interpretation, where “The Frankenstein Place” has all-encompassing ‘enticements’ that would be as fitting for the “Playboy Mansion” or “Plato’s Retreat”, as it would for the “Continental Baths” or “The Stonewall Inn”!
Debuting in 1973 upstairs at London’s “Royal Court Theatre”, “Rocky Horror” has now been around for 45 years, and during that time has been fondly passed down from ‘Gender-ation to Gender-ation”. This latest conferral at “The Maverick” is an unconventional hybrid of the original 1974 production that made such a monumental splash at Hollywood’s landmark “Roxy Theater”, in conjunction with the somewhat more expanded, but ‘monstrously’ successful in its own right 2001 Broadway Revival that integrated a small chorus, borrowing much of what proved so popular in the film. It all works–and more importantly, entertains either way though—time and the ‘time warp” hasn’t added one grey hair, wrinkle or sagging muscle to “Rocky’s” robust farcical framework. Then again, always light-years ahead of its time in terms of depicting “Gender-Fluidity” and “Pan-Sexuality”, this emphatically twisted, turned-on, and tuned-in re-telling of the Frankenstein story is an as-outrageous-as-they-come mish-mash of the campiest, ‘vamp-iest’ bits from old science fiction films, pulp-comics, “Frankie” & “Annette” “Beach Party” outings, not to mention the often bizarre fad dances of the 1950’s and ‘60’s. All played out to a rollicking, jazzed-up score that pays homage to Rock ‘n’ Roll music of every shape size and era (but “Glam-Rock” especially,) now set against the changing mores of “The Sexual Revolution” and “The Me Decade” of the 1970’s, central to this more ‘ribald’ recounting is the sexual confusion (–or more aptly put, ‘capitulation’,) of two straight-laced Middle American kids named “Brad Majors” and his innocent-as-a-baby-doe “Fiancé”, “Janet Weiss”. Stranded one fateful evening due to “a flat tire and wet night”, they seek refuge at an old Castle, upon which they’re soon enticed into a decadent world of “erotic nightmares beyond any measure, and sensual daydreams to treasure forever” lorded over by the mad “doctor” in residence, “Frank ‘N’ Furter”. .A self-described “Sweet Transvestite” from the planet “Transsexual” (in the galaxy of ‘Transylvania’) they also encounter his equally off-center band of followers, including his two incestuously-inclined servants named “Riff Raff” and his sister, “Magenta”. Oh, yes—there’s also his muscle-bound man “with blond hair and a tan” who he’s been ‘building’ up in his laboratory: “Brad and Janet, you are fortunate,” Frank exults upon meeting our young hero and heroine, “for tonight my beautiful creature is destined to be born!”
Under Newell’s direction numerous elements cleverly reflect—but never wholly reconstruct or ‘copy’ the groundbreaking movie—so those who expect them to, as well as those who hope they don’t, are sure to be satisfied regardless. Not only that–Newell has stirred up a great big bowl of savagely nutty, pan-sexual pleasure—that, while maybe not as edgy or so ‘down and dirty’ as it was once perceived, is every bit as much fun to see and be a part of as when it first bowed. His inventive staging also makes savvy use of the total performance space at his disposal–including its various amenities, such as the far side bar on stage right whereupon “Frank N. Furter” initially makes his humongous presence known; or how Brad and Janet wander through the rear and center aisles of the venue—pelted all the while by water from spray bottle while on their way to the castle (–talk about your inter-active theater!) What absolutely makes his contribution so masterful though, is how he and his team valiantly manage to surmount or adapt even the trickiest requirements of the play, and in doing so, frequently end up creating something far better or more astounding. Furthermore, he doesn’t overlook a good opportunity to now and then throw in a few wry (—and even a few raw–) sight gags, as in the big dual “seduction” scenes when Frank, in shadow behind lace curtains, convinces both of his young ‘guests’ to join him in swimming “the warm waters of sins of the flesh” (and in Brad’s case, when he does a flaccid condom pop out!)
Thanks to the addition of the six-person chorus of “phantoms” who appear and disappear as needed, what is basically a ‘small cast’ musical seems far larger and more impactful. Utilizing pre-recorded orchestrations (many sounding like they were taken directly from the film’s soundtrack,) everyone in the “Maverick’s” cast have pretty potent vocal talents and even more dexterous dancing abilities, which are put to excellent use thanks to Choreographer Kelsie Blackwell’s top-notch dance routines. Often these explode into—and enhance–the proceedings when they’re least expected; but rest assured they never fail to delight once they occur. A fine example of this is “Dammit Janet”—a two person duet that has our lad “Brad” proposing to his long-time ‘steady’, “Janet” right after a wedding of friends they’re attending. Starting small, it soon becomes an all-out production number incorporating some really rousing choreography, as our newly betrothed love birds are backed several other ‘50’s era-looking’ couples that comprise the bridal party—including the lucky groom and his obviously jealous bride, “Betty” who seethes over Janet’s having just ‘stolen her thunder’ on ‘her’ special day. Speaking of thunder (–and lighting and rain) here too, Newell’s innovative staging has these same members of the ensemble subsequently gather—now dressed in sepulchral black robes; starting out, they’re called upon to ‘act’ as ‘parts’ of the car our young protagonists are driving in then, (once in conks out,) to follow them all the way through the theater with spray bottles filled with water to in effect. ‘Be’ the storm they’re singing about as they intrepidly make their way toward that light “Over At The Frankenstein Place”. They all ‘cum out to play” again–demonstrating some awesome group harmonizing amidst “Eddie’s Teddy”, then reassemble to loan a sense of energy and added grandeur to the infamous “Floor Show” sequence–making it genuinely worth the wait! The curtain-call (immediately following a brisk reprise of “Science Fiction Double Feature”) reveals the whole company reconvened, who then partake in a swift–but spirited, encore of “The Time Warp” (even bringing a few members of the audience up to join them!)
The supremely talented cast of this mind-blowing production is headed by Dennis Tong who, repeating his previous 2009 success at “The Maverick”, once again takes on the role of “Dr. Frank N. Furter”. Tong’s approach to this emblematic character is a more “macho’ representation than those favored by either Tim Curry or Laverne Cox—and very, VERY “Punk Rock”. Laid back and flirtatious as opposed to anything overtly flamboyant or effete, his take is that of a uber-cool Rock Star perfectly at home in this environment of his own making, so he doesn’t need to try so hard to ‘impress’ his storm-tossed visitors, and you know what? It works! Sporting platinum hair and fully fabulous, he gives us a (more or less,) ‘man’ with, (as we’re advised,) “a ‘physical philosophy’ and “of little morals and some persuasion”. “I’m not much of a man by the light of day—but by night I’m one Hell of a lover’ he exults. Making his seminal appearance out in the ‘odd-itorium’, atop the theater’s side bar, he then loses no time taking the stage and taking charge of the proceedings—first, with the iconic anthem “Sweet Transvestite”, before wowing us again with both parts of “The Charles Atlas Song” (utilizing the slightly altered lyrics from the film version.) Afterwards, his declamatory descant in the second act, “Planet Schmamet Janet” is likewise forceful and forthrightly conveyed, but it’s Tong’s surprisingly sensitive execution of “Going Home”—Frank’s misguided but strangely poignant 11th hour “Torch Song”, that just may even have you singing along in spite of yourself.
With a kind of boyish and likeably nervous charm reminiscent of Tobey Maguire or a young Shia LaBeouf, Paul Zelhart makes his impressive mark as ‘our hero’– “Brad Majors”, while just as exceptional, Mackenzie Greiner is as his soon-to-be ‘better half’, “Janet Weiss”. Both have laudable voices which combined give us twice the theatrical thrills, which they handily demonstrate by launching the show in high style with the buoyant tuner– “Dammit Janet” as Brad clumsily asks Janet to be his “Mrs.” (At the song’s conclusion, they stop just short of kissing–like all ‘nice girls’ of the time were expected to do!) They also do a creditable job (despite being soaked with water while doing it) with “Over At The Frankenstein Place”—with the complete lyrics (I.E. Brad’s verse) restored. Their concluding ballad titled “Super Heroes” is also a dynamic win for each of them—and given some appropriately intense singing and soulful phrasing by both. Mackenzie also has plenty of opportunities to add luster to numbers throughout–occasionally even taking the spotlight for a few on her own. On the surface (meaning ‘fully clothed’,) Greiner’s “Janet” is a pretty, perky and blonde ingénue with a smooth, silky voice. Once she’s ‘dressed-down’ at the castle however, keen eyes are sure to observe that she does have some fairly zesty ‘under-clothing’ for a supposed “Nice Girl”. Lest there be any doubts about our “Janet” being a ‘closet-libertine’, they’re all confirmed with the light-heartedly libidinous, “Toucha, Toucha, Touch Me”— as our gal confides to us through song, “I’ve tasted blood and I want more” before going so far as to seduce Rocky who is hiding from Frank and his cohorts. Zelhart himself indicates (at least the start) a comparable promise of stellar song-handling capabilities with “Brad’s” could-be-brilliant solo “Once In A While”. Giving what promises to be a seriously soulful delivery, we’re only afforded the briefest taste before “Frank” jumps out from the wings—commanding that since it was cut from the film, they won’t be performing it here. Forlornly, in cutting him short, this is the only real short-coming of this otherwise faultless production.
As “Riff-Raff”, Stephen Hulsey too proves to be a vocal-powerhouse, painting Frank’s “faithful handyman’ as more formal and traditionally ‘gothic’ than stereotypically ‘weird’ (–or, “spaced out on sensation’ as he’s been portrayed in many productions.) Hulsey thoroughly dazzles with his robust stewardship of “The Time Warp”—which quickly swells into a large, full cast endeavor overflowing with loads of high-octane energy and some terrific moves from all of those involved. Right there beside him most of the time is Tara Pitt in the dual role of “Magenta” and an enigmatic ‘Usherette’ named “Trixie”. Sporting dark ‘Shirley Temple’ like curls, her eyes reveal just a glint of mischievousness (–or is it malevolence?) such as one might come across with those or “Monster High” or “Zombie Baby” dolls. As “Trixie”, garbed in a nifty red pill-box hat and coordinating red ‘ushers’ jacket (stunningly adorned with gold epaulets on either shoulder,) she verifies right off exactly how enviable a voice she has, launching the goings-on with a super-charged ‘new wave’ tinged rendition of “Science Fiction Double Feature”. Set against a screen onto which are flashed scenes from the various classic sci-fi films she’s singing of in the lyrics, listen and then just dare your toes NOT to tap along! Soon after, in her guise as Franks’ ‘Domestic’ “Magenta”, she also puts her superior vocal prowess to magnificent use with her part in “The Time Warp”—actually singing the lyrics in lieu of simply talking them (see the movie again and you’ll realize exactly how refreshing Pitt’s alternative is!) Together, Hulsey and Pitt bring to mind something akin to the “SY-FY Channel’s’’ leather-clad answer to Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull! At the show’s conclusion they re-emerge from the shadows (her, still as “Magenta”) to sing the concluding reprise of “Science Fiction”—this time with a smoldering cat-that-ate-the-canary grin of satisfaction, thus giving more (and decidedly more unsettling) resonance to the lines, when Pitt croons: “Darkness has conquered Brad and Janet—the servants gone to a distant planet…”
Also furnishing enthusiastic support is winsome Audrey Curd as Frank’s wide-eyed ‘Groupie”, “Columbia”. Dolled up like the “Swiss Miss Girl”–and with a brown bowler hat, she brings an inherent ‘sweetness’ to the girl which, being that it’s so unexpected, is all the more exhilarating. (It’s as if Maria Von Trapp”, or Disney’s “Snow White” had wandered into the wrong musical!) In any case, her presence definitely invigorates the proceedings starting with her contribution to “The Time Warp”, then later with her tearful verses of “Eddie’s Teddy”: “Everybody shoved him,” she laments; “I very nearly love him!” As the object of her post-adolescent affections, Enrique Munoz Jr. himself defies expectation—and is even compelling in his dual depictions of both the Juvenile Delinquent turned “Ex Delivery Boy”, “Eddie” in Act One, then after intermission, “Eddie’s” wheel-chair bound Uncle “Dr. Everett Scott” (–a former Science tutor to Brad and Janet and now a “Rival Scientist” to “Frank”.) Making “Eddie’s” preliminary entrance as from the side-stage men’s room, he brings with him his burley stage presence and robust voice. With it, he does a remarkable job of clearly articulating O’Brien’s tongue-twisting, rapid-fire lyrics to “Whatever Happened To Saturday Night” (a.k.a. “Hot Patootie Bless My Soul”)”. Immediately after, “Eddie’s” ultimate, untimely, ‘demise’ that occurs right before the act break, is tastefully (…well, or at least thereabouts,) handled OFF-STAGE! (That it’s supposedly done with a chainsaw is purely immaterial!) In Act Two, employing an exaggerated German Accent, he leads the group in the more stolid, “Eddie’s Teddy”. Also post-intermission, Munoz provides one of the biggest laughs of the entire show once “Dr. Scott” ‘awakes’ at the “Floor Show”. Fearing his sanity “may well snap”, he soon finds that he too is kitted-out in lacy panties and fish-net stockings under his Doc Martins!
In another categorically unique departure from the standard, stodgy “Criminologist” of the film, Rob Downs’ take on “The Narrator” is more like a laid-back ‘Hugh Hefner’ type (–replete with pipe, red smoking jacket and Brandy sifter in hand, while flanked by two silken-clad Victoria’s Secret Hotties.) Relating the story as if it’s being considered for just another (albeit sizzlingly saucy and salacious) inclusion in say, “The Playboy Forum”, he pops in and out of the action to throw in a verse of a song here, or interject a fast bit of commentary there, when needed. Downs is also considerably adept with a smart ad-lib or impromptu punch-line, as when pondering how “Frank” has tempted our hapless duo with the chance to at last taste “Forbidden Fruit”, he breezily calls it “Franken-Berries”. Then, at one point in the course of “Rocky’s” introductory “I Am” song, called “The Sword Of Damocles”, he even tries to offer the hulking stud-ling a beer, only to be rebuffed by Frank who, in light of Rock’s just coming into existence minutes before, scolds “No! He’s under-aged!” Most definitely NOT to be overlooked either is Chris Marshall as Frank N. Furter’s titular ‘creation’– “Rocky Horror”. “I do think you made a pretty good job of the body work” Frank’s ‘new playmate’ quips to his maker shortly after his literally electrifying ‘unveiling’. Yes, on stage “Rocky” surely does speak much more than his cinematic counterpart did; Indeed, he’s more ‘developed’ on stage (–and with Marshall playing him let’s add—and how!) Flaunting his utterly phenomenal physique—awash with tats, bulging pecs and package, (and all splayed with spray glitter,) his singing is identically as strong, which he validates with his lively execution of “The Sword Of Damocles”. Did we mention he also sports a rather debonair beard as well? (—What more could you ask for?!)
A man of many talents, Newell is also responsible for the Set, Lighting and Sound designs—and each gets an ‘A-Plus’ for originality. Comprised of a collection of vintage ‘steam-punk’ clock-work gears and sprawling metal girders contrasted against elegant red velvet curtains, the effect almost subliminally suggests that the ‘castle’ itself is merely one giant ‘craft’ of the sort that would be conjured in the minds of such turn-of-the-century visionaries as H.G. Wells or Georges Melies. Worthy of note also is the huge black-and-white “R.K.O. Radio Pictures” backdrop —courtesy of Stephen Sands, that sets the scene for the show’s flamboyant ‘floor show’ climax. Like the sets, the costumes are never precisely what you’d expect—but are unfalteringly incredible! Complementing the scenic concept are the similarly fantastic, fanciful—and matching–“Steam Punk” inspired Costume designs by Celestina Hudson. The “Floor Show” alone is a sight to see, consisting of ‘shocking’ red Bustiers, red feather-boas, and fish-net stockings–with lacy crimson panties to boot! (The ensemble sport the same only in midnight black.) Memorable as well are Riff-Raff and Magenta’s silver-on-purple “Space Alien” uniforms (once they’ve seized control,) which favor a distinctive “Amphibian”—Meets–“Queen Of Outer-Space” attitude and quality. But the real ‘piece de resistance’ are the stream-lined ”Pleasure Chest” Bargain Bin/“Ziggy Stardust-Redux” fashions donned by “Frank” up until the scandalous “Floor Show” (–and then watch out!)
“So! Come up to the lab—and see what’s on the slab!” –And revisit this old friend (who, even if little on the trashy or tawdry side, is yet oh, so appealing nonetheless!) While you’re at it, introduce him to your mates, compadres, spouse and older kids. Even better-you don’t have to wait until ‘midnight’ to catch them all! Just take that “jump to the left, and then a step to the right, put your hands on your hips…” and head to “The Maverick Theater” to pay a visit to “Rocky” and his pals. Having opened on Friday, June 22nd “The Rocky Horror Show” will play through Saturday, August 11th, 2018 at “The Maverick Theater” located at 110 E. Walnut Avenue in Fullerton California. Showtimes for this engagement are Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 PM, with Sunday performances at 6:00 PM. Tickets and reservations can be obtained either by calling “The Maverick Theater” Box-Office at (714) 526-7070, or on-line by logging onto: https://mavericktheater.tix.com/Schedule.aspx?OrgNum=491 –or via “Goldstar Events” at: https://www.goldstar.com/events/fullerton-ca/the-rocky-horror-show-1
Production Stills By Kelsie Blackwell Courtesy Of Kelsie Blackwell, Heidi Newell & “The Maverick Theater”; Special Thanks To Heidi Newell, Brian Newell, Kelsie Blackwell, Tara Pitt–And To The Cast And Crew Of “The Maverick Theater’s” 2018 Production Of “The Rocky Horror Show” For Making This Story Possible.