2011-06-30 / Dining & Entertainment

Bless my soul! Conejo Players’ ‘Rocky Horror’ is ‘astounding’

By Sally Carpenter

ENGAGED—Ashley Whiting, Alex Choate as Janet and Brad. En route to Scott’s house late one stormy night, Brad’s car gets a flat tire. The couple seek aid at a nearby castle, where they encounter some odd characters dancing “The Time Warp.” ENGAGED—Ashley Whiting, Alex Choate as Janet and Brad. En route to Scott’s house late one stormy night, Brad’s car gets a flat tire. The couple seek aid at a nearby castle, where they encounter some odd characters dancing “The Time Warp.” Great Scott! Richard O’Brien’s offbeat musical “The Rocky Horror Show” invades the Conejo Players Theatre with a screwy but somehow entertaining mash-up of pop culture, movie clichés, outrageous characters, goth stylings, kinky sex, high energy rock ’n’ roll, and fishnet stockings—on the men.

This is the play that spawned the cult phenomenon movie “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” still running after 26 years. Weekly midnight screenings turned the flick into a noisy and chaotic participation event.

Watching the play without audience interaction reveals some decent musical theater with a satire of lavish Broadway dance numbers in Act 2’s “floor show.” The script’s an affectionate but R-rated send-up of those low-budget, 1950s scifi drive-in films with silly plots, space aliens, mad scientists and all-American teenagers.

Moving past the initial shock value, the play’s a surprisingly sensitive portrayal of a teen’s sexual awakening and the resulting feelings of guilt, confusion and pleasure.

The show elevates camp into high art. But “Rocky” won’t appeal to everyone. The movie’s fans will love it; others will shake their heads in bewilderment.

Unlike the movie, the play opens with two usherettes (Ixchel Lopez and Jasmine Harris) moving like wind-up mannequins as they sing “Science Fiction Double Feature.” Brad Majors (Alex Choate) and Janet Weiss (Ashley Whiting), two clean-cut, wholesome young adults, get engaged—although Brad’s love song, “Dammit, Janet,” is hardly a romantic standard.

The two rush to share the good news with their teacher, Dr. Everett Scott (David Parmenter). A Criminologist (Ray Mastrovito) narrates the action with a voice-ofdoom.

All this is a prelude to the anticipated entrance of the show’s star, Dr. Frank ’N’ Furter (Shea Taylor). Frank sings that he’s a “sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania” and opens his robe to reveal high heels, women’s stockings, a bustier, briefs, face painting and red glitter lipstick. Not what your average scientist wears in the laboratory.

Frank’s assisted by Columbia (Courtney Potter) and an incestuous brother-sister pair, Riff Raff (Michael Byrne) and Magenta (Hannah Davey).

Frank orders intruders Brad and Janet to visit his lab to witness the animation of his greatest creation, Rocky, a handsome boy toy.

From here the plot grows murky. Dr. Scott arrives to flush out the space aliens (guess who?). Scott’s nephew, Eddie (Christopher Mastrovito), wows with the blistering rock anthem “Hot Patootie.” The Criminologist occasionally pops in to comment on the story. And Brad and Janet experience the night of their lives.

The play generates a warmth and charm lacking in the movie. The Phantoms—Frank’s party guests—sing backup in most of the musical numbers. The staging of “Over at the Frankenstein Place” with hand-held lights is lovely.

To his credit, director-choreographer Arryck Adams doesn’t attempt to duplicate the movie. The actors provide a fresh interpretation of the iconic characters.

Choate’s Brad is nicely nerdy and presents a heartfelt solo on “Once in a While.” Whiting’s Janet is sweet yet sensual and full of gumption. Their poignant final number together is full of pathos.

Byrne plays Riff Raff like the demented hunchback lab assistant of horror flicks. Davey belts her songs like a one-woman gospel choir. Potter, Ray Mastrovito and David Parmenter all provide strong support.

Tim Curry, the film’s Frank ’N’ Furter, seems hard to top, but Taylor makes the role his own with an effeminate twist that works. He swishes, flirts and throws tantrums like a petulant drag queen. His “Whatever happened to Fay Wray?” speech, delivered in a blonde wig and an evening gown while he holds a toy gorilla, is hilarious. Then Taylor turns soulful for “I’m Going Home.”

There’s plenty of visual comedy. The Halloween-like castle is perfectly creepy, and the colorful costumes and makeup are deliciously over-the-top.

A small, tight band provides accompaniment. Lisa Yaldezian is the music director.

Warning: Patrons will be expected to perform “The Time Warp” during curtain call. Remember, it’s just a jump to the left . . .

The play runs through July 23 at the theater, 351 S. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks. Two midnight audience participation shows will be on Fridays, July 8 and 15, with $5 off admission for those in costume.

To purchase tickets, call the box office at (805) 495-3715 or visit www.conejoplayers.org.

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