Cult Theatre

We’re all familiar with cult movies: those movies that have acquired such a following that the audience becomes part of the entertainment; movies that have become part of the cultural landscape. Examples abound, from bad films such as those of Edward Wood, to “Night of the Living Dead”, to “Harold and Maude”, to singalongs for “The Sound of Music”, to …. well, I’m sure you have your favorite. Often, they are run at midnight and have a devoted group of followers. Theatre too has its cults: one only need look at the devoted followers of “Wicked” or “Jekyll and Hyde” to see this.

These two cult worlds intersect—or should I say collide—when one runs into the sweet transvestite from Translyvania. In terms of film, one the best known cult fils is “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, whose cult stature was perhaps best captured in the 1980’s-era movie “Fame”. Before Rocky Horror was a film, however, it was a stage musical called “The Rocky Horror Show” written by Richard O’Brien. After starting in London, Rocky Horror made its debut in Los Angeles at the Roxy in 1974—producing an album many of us are familiar with. As with the movie, this musical has its cult following.

By now, you have realized this is all lead-in, for last night we went to the Underground Theatre (who has a website to make a subway fan swoon) in Hollywood to see their production of “The Rocky Horror Show”. About half of the audience was made up of a party group made up with red boas and sparkly hats celebrating the birthday of a fabulous man named Michael. This was neither your typical staid and boring theatre audience that sits back and watches the show, nor was it your rowdy high school audience. This audience knew the show, and shouted back at the cast (encouraged by the producer), just as those at the movie shout at the screen. It was a unique (pause) experience (pause)… and quite a blast!

I’m not sure I even need to explain the plot of “Rocky Horror”, but perhaps there is some virgin somewhere that hasn’t seen either the stage production or the movie. A detailed synopsis can be found on the Wikipedia page. The show tells the story of a young couple, Brad Majors and his fiancee Janet Weiss. Their car breaks down in the rain one night while they are on the way to visit Dr. Everett Scott, and they go to the local castle to phone for help. Once there, they are greeted by Riff Raff, the hunchbacked assistant of the castle’s owner, Frank N. Furter, a bisexual mad scientist. They meet the castle’s staff: Magenta, the maid (Riff Raff’s sister), and Columbia, Frank N. Furter’s “groupie.” They do the Time Warp (“It’s just a jump to the left…”). They then go to the laboratory where they learn about Frank’s creation: a blond, bronzed man named Rocky Horror. We also learn about Furter’s earlier effort: Eddie, whom Columbia loves/loved. From there the events and activities get weirder, more sexual, and at times bizarre. Janet enjoys Brad’s advances in her darkened bedroom before realizing that it is in fact Frank in disguise. Brad enjoys Janet’s advances in his darkened bedroom… before realizing that it is in fact Frank in disguise. Rocky escapes, and has a trist with Janet, while Dr. Scott shows up investigating aliens. Eventually, the inhabitants of the castle are revealed to be space aliens led by Frank, and under Frank’s influence, Columbia, Rocky, Brad, and Janet perform song and dance routines while clad in lingerie. This all climaxes (in every sense of the word) in your typical science fiction movie ending. In short: wild, bizarre, fun. Everything a musical should be.

The Underground Theatre’s production of “Rocky Horror” was excellent. All of the cast were a delight to watch: they acted well, they danced well, and except for an odd note or two here and there, sang well. This was especially true up close and personal in the front row, and given the nature of the costumes. Let’s start with the “normal” leads: Troy Guthrie as Brad Majors and Susan Huckle as Janet Weiss. Strong singers and actors, these two captured the innocence and subsequent descent of the characters well. Huckle, in particular, was a joy to watch—one of those actresses you can’t take your eyes off of.

Turning to the castle’s inhabitants: Adia Joëll (Riff Raff), Jessica “Sugar” Kiper (Magenta), Kelly Devoto (cast page) (Columbia), Peter Tucci (Rocky Horror), and of course, Carey Embry (Dr. Frank N. Furter). Before we even start, yes, it was Sugar from Survivor. As I was saying… the castle’s inhabitants. Joëll’s Riff Riff was an interesting choice, as normally Riff Raff is male. She brought an interesting sexuality and a strong singing voice to the role. I found Devoto’s Columbia truly remarkable to watch: a unique characterization that reminded me of Abby on NCIS: cute, small, a distinctive voice and style, and a great dancer. Sugar was more in the background as Magenta (or perhaps I just felt this way because she was situated more on the other side of the stage), but proved to be a surprisingly strong singer, especially in the opening number. Tucci’s Rocky didn’t capture me: although he was having fun with the role and had the requisite bronzing and package, he had a few off notes that I can’t precisely pin down in both singing and performance. Embry, as Furter, was fantastic: a towering transvestite who could act, sing (except for one off note) and dance; a freak who drew your eye and did wild bizzare things with it.

Rounding out the cast were the Phantoms: Adrian Lee Borden, Kristian Espiritu, Shelly Hacco, and Natasha Velasco; Max Maven (Narrator); and Alexel Ryan (Eddie/Dr. Scott). The Phantoms were a joy to watch sing and dance, and I was particularly smitted by Adrian Borden, who had a look and facial expressions that just drew your eye. However, all were great singers and dancers and good actors. Maven was off on the side, narrating, but you can still tell he had fun with the role. Lastly, Ryan had fun with Dr. Scott, especially in the closing numbers.

If I had to summarize the effect of this cast: they had fun and ran with it, and this joy and love for this show just shone through in their performance. When this happens, it just magnifies what the audience gets out of the show.

Turning to the technical: In an interesting coincidence, David Goldstein (who did the “It’s Top Secret” set) also did the set for Rocky Horror. As this was a simple black box theatre, the set was primarily the lab setup and not all that fancy, although there were some interesting blinkenlights equipment. Jessica “Sugar” Kiper also served as costume supervisor, although it is unclear if she designed the sexy costumes, which were effective, creative, and (ahem) revealed the characters quite well. Special costume thanks were given in the program to Lighting design was by Ian Peacock, who effectively established the mood. Molly G. Yarn was the Production and Stage Manager.

The production was directed by Allison Austin, who has received kudos from others for how she directed this production. I have to agree with them: she did a great job in preventing the production from degenerating into camp; she drew out remarkable performances from all the cast. This makes it so one can see the show repeatedly and find nuances to enjoy from each cast member. Lindsey Glick choreographed the show, making creative use of the small space. Ed Kelly served as musical director of the off-stage small band, which was led by Rosh Roslin and consisted of Roslin, Kelly, and Mike Papgni, and provided great sound. The show was produced by Brian Glicker and Big Brit productions.

The Rocky Horror Show” (a Big Brit production) continues through July 10, 2010, with one special midnight show remaining on July 10. General admission is $25; you may be able to find discounts on Tickets are available through and Brown Paper Tickets, or you can call (323) 960-4443.

Dining Notes: Before the show, we hit Natalie’s Peruvian Seafood Restaurant which was up on Hollywood near Wilton, not that far from the theatre. In one word: excellent. I had the Pescado Sudado, a delightful whitefish steamed in a sauce with onions and tomatos and white white. Karen had the Ceviche Mixto, which she said was delightful but a bit spicy. Erin had the Arroz con Mariscos, which sent her into seafood ecstasy. Jim was the non-seafood person: he had the Bisteck a lo Pobre—I had a taste, and it was good (although with all the fried stuff, a bit more fattening). In short: this place is a do again!

Upcoming Theatre and Dance. Next weekend is the 4th of July. We’re celebrating this with two tours: the Broadway tour of “In The Heights” at the Pantages on July 3, and DCI Southern California drum corps tour (the Western Corps Connection) in Riverside on July 5. The next weekend (July 10 @ 8pm) is the first show of the 2010-2011 Colony season, “Grace & Glorie”. The third weekend of July brings ; The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” at REP East on July 17 and the July “Meeting of Minds on July 18. The 4th weekend brings Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on July 24, and “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” at the Mark Taper Forum on July 25. Plus July will possibly bring some ventures out to the Hollywood Bowl. July or August should also bring [title of show] at the Celebration Theatre (July 16-September 5) — I’m just waiting for tickets to show up on Goldsar. In terms of what is ticketed and calendared, August starts with “Young Frankenstein” at the Pantages on August 1, and (hopefully) “Rent” at the Hollywood Bowl (pending ticketing) the following weekend. August 15 brings the August “Meeting of Minds”, and August 21 “Side Man” at REP East. Looking into September, there is “Free Man of Color” at the Colony on September 4, and “Leap of Faith” at the Ahmanson Theatre (September 5-October 17, to be ticketed), and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” at REP East (9/17-10/16). It is unknown if there will be a September “Meeting of Minds”, and if so, when and where.

As always: live theatre is a gift and a unique experience, unlike a movie. It is vitally important in these times that you support your local arts institutions. If you can afford to go to the movies, you can afford to go to theatre. If you need help finding ways, just drop me a note and I’ll teach you some tricks. Lastly, I’ll note that nobody paid me anything to write this review. In fact, I receive no remuneration for any reviews I write.