"The Rocky Horror Show" is alive and . . . well, it's alive.
Opening a six-night run at the Warner Theatre last night, Richard O'Brien's cult wonder proved to be energetic theater fighting off its publicity. Since the original's stage productions in 1973 and 1974 failed to developp an audience outside of London and Los Angeles, and since the gaudy and giddy 1974 film version only took off over the last three years, one suspects that the play itself is not the thing, it's the playground that counts.
"Rocky Horror" is a bright and brassy transsexual, sci-fi who-dunit-to-whom melodramatic romance with little pretense to art. Cardboard characters inspired by '50s grade-B classics get to run around semi-naked -- when they're not involved in various drag strips -- singing generally laborious quasi-rock songs and camping things up to thigh heaven. As a rock musical, "Rocky Horror's" debts are split equally between Broadway and the Brill Building, but as an event, it plays better as a movie.
What was curious about last night's opening was the sedate nature of the well-heeled audience, a marked contrast to the costume extravaganzas and participatory verbal anarchy that surround the film version in its weekly midnight showings. An announcer warned before the play, "Random abuse is extremely distracting," and the night in fact was filled with halfhearted attempts to shape the spirit of the play with Additional Text by Audience. Unlike the movies, one couldn't very well throw rice and shoot water pistols at a live stage show, but a few well-placed barbs and arrows of outrageous wit might have been condoned.
The play concerns the misadventures of Janet and Brad, a despicably preppy couple who wind up in the lair of Dr. Frank N. Furter, the transvestite leader of a spaced-out crew of aliens from Transylvania, a far-out planet in a distant galaxy. Futer is something out of a hot dog, a role relished by Frank Gregory, who makes as stunning an entrance as one could expect for a character delineated in the original stage and film versions by Tim Curry, who is, ironically, playing Mozart a half block away at the National. Gregory, who sings well and moves with exalted abandon, controls the stage with each appearance. Decked out in corsets, garters and glittery makeup apparently shoveled on by a blindfolded makeup person, he swishes and sways, pumps and grinds. As played by Gregory, Furter is living testimony to camp vitality.
The other major roles are well sung and acted by Marcia Mitzman (as Janet), Frank Piegaro (as the ultimate murd, Brad), Pendleton Brown (as the hunchback Riff Raff) and Thom McCleister (as Eddie/Dr. Scott). Steve Lincoln as The Narrator exudes enough sartorial and tonsorial charm to sell Longines Symphonettes on late-night television, while Lorelle Brina (Magenta) and C.J. Britt (Columbia) also register strongly. The only weak casting seems to be Dennis Daniels as Rocky, Furter's created plaything.
Meghan Duffy, who sets the B-film milieu in an opening and closing number, sings strongly, and the live ban is tight, though a bit loud. The play's puckish sexual humor has its charms, while the no-frills cabaret stage set serves to brace the romps of the zany crew. Ultimately, though, "Rocky Horrow Show" is a curiosity, an object case in the banality of sensationalism. Played for laughs by the audience -- as in the movie version -- it incites otherwise dormant energies. Played for laughs at an audience -- as in this "first authorized tour presentation -- it is a curio and little more than an expensive advertisement for the indicreet charms of the film.