THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW -- At the Warner Theater, November 25 through 30.
I found no cause for getting / Into heavy petting / It only leads to trouble and / Seat / Wetting.
Can a musical that makes fun of such traditional and physiologically sound advice to young women succeed in the Reagan years -- when the new morality has already given way to the new moralizing? Of course it can; the musical is The Rocky Horror Show, the original stage version of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which arrives at the Warner Theater next Tuesday.
The Rocky Horror Show is an English musical, chosen Best Musical of the Year in 1973, which pits two innocent young Americans named Brad and Janet against an evil transvestite scientist, Dr. Frank N. Furter, and his scabrous servants. Furter is a native of the planet Transexual in the galaxy of Transylvania, and his mission is to create life on earth. He makes himself a beautiful monster called Rocky, seduces both Janet and Brad by pretending to be both Brad and Janet, offends his hunchback fellow Transylvanians in some way which I am not very clear about, dresses everybody up in corsets and is killed.
That's not much of a plot -- just enough to give all those people a chance to dance, or rather posture, around the stage dressed in raggedy net stockings or clean underwear.
Rocky Horror was a hit in London, a flop in New York, and made into a movie that failed when it was released in 1976. It slowly became a cult movie for the teen-agers of the late '70s. There is something about this creaky old bisexual propaganda that delights junior-high students, and they have made midnight shows of the Rocky Horror Picture Show into something like a camp bacchanaal -- in a summer camp. Rice is flung at the screen when marriage is mentioned, questions are chanted which the characters seem to answer: a narrator who appears from time to time reads a mock-serious poem about the death of Frank Furter. "Across the face of earth there crawled. . . "
"What did you have for breakfast?" chant the children.
"A mass of insects, called the human race."
"Where's your neck?" chant the children.
"Lost in time."
"Where's your [deleted]?"
"Lost in space."
The stage show captures some but not all of this late-night teen-age marijuana party fun. First of all, you can't throw things -- dancers would break a leg on the rice. Second, chanting is discouraged -- a bad idea, since these are kids who always do what they're told or who are at least embarrassed when they don't. Third, there are too many of us grown-ups around disturbing that joyous adolescent anarchy, that air of excitement just like a classroom that has been told it's going to have a substitute teacher for the day.
Still, the production, a lot tawdrier and a lot more disorderly than the movie, is a lot of fun. The music is mostly early-'70s white noise -- lots of amplifier hum and rhythmic static -- and the cast sets to work with a lot of eager, campy energy to liven up the audience. They often succeed in spite of the presence of Mom and Dad, in spite of history, in spite of the original intent of the material. Take a couple 14-year-olds when you go to Rocky Horror, just to be there when they leap to their feet and go through a parody of a parody of sexual gyrations singing, "Let's do the time warp again," with the kind of nostalgic goofiness older Americans associate with "M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E," the opening of the Mousketeer song. There is an innate hilarity in all amateur performances, and the cast -- to a man, and woman and undecided voter -- has the sense to play down to the level of our expectations.