So it seems perfectly in keeping with his outre résuméthat this 35-year-old New York actor of intense demeanor and piercing gaze would turn up as Dr. Frank ’N’ Furter, the cheap-thrill-seeking, gender-bending girly-man of “The Rocky Horror Show.” But in the rollicking revival of the 1973 musical — which just announced a second extension at Studio Theatre, to Aug. 17 — Jarvis is not of a mind to create a carbon copy of what fans have seen before.
His Frank ’N’ Furter is no receptacle of kitsch, the sort of stylishly cartoon-like figure Tim Curry embodied in the 1975 movie “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” which has inspired generations of devotees to turn up costumed like him at midnight art-house showings. Jarvis had a notion for this “Rocky Horror,” directed by Alan Paul and Keith Alan Baker, of a darker portrait of a man taking too big a bite out of life, a nonconformist who lives on the edge and pays the ultimate price for it.
“He’s an ugly guy in drag,” Jarvis says, sitting one afternoon last month in a coffee emporium a block from the theater on 14th Street NW. “I view him as equal parts male and female — a mad scientist and a cult figure. Some superfans will say, ‘Oh, it’s just about being a freak.’ No. He’s Dionysus. He’s living to excess, so much so that he must die.”
Despite the character’s glam-punk getup, Jarvis makes no effort to turn Frank ’N’ Furter into the glamorpuss king of the musical’s decadent castle, where in the lab he invents the boy toy of his dreams (William Hayes) and in the bedroom ravishes the clean-cut B-movie couple (Tim Rogan and Jessica Thorne) who chance upon his doorstep one stormy night. It is indeed a nervy portrayal, stripped of many of the campy mannerisms for which Frank ’N’ Furter is known. In fact, Jarvis says, he tussled with his directors over his wish that audiences not shout out lyrics, a tradition that started with the movie and has been adopted by many stage productions since.
Getting to do it his way was partly why he decided to leave New York for the summer and accept the job in Studio’s 2ndStage program, which often uses actors who are not yet members of Equity, the actors’ union.
“I don’t know if I would have taken the part,” says Taylor, who met Jarvis in “Rock of Ages” and most recently had a recurring role as one of the singer-dancers on NBC’s “Smash.” “But Mitch will always choose to do something that excites him. He wanted to play this part, and this was his opportunity to do it.”