Shadowbox Live brought back an oldie but a goodie for their first full-length musical in their new downtown space, with Richard O’Brien’s cult classic “The Rocky Horror Show,” for a nice and svelte two-hour opening last night.
I’ve been waiting for to see what Shadowbox’s new digs meant for their Sunday musicals series, as it is my favorite part of the Shadowbox experience. Strong showcases of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “Back to the Garden” and “Rent” over the past few years have set the group up as a musical theater powerhouse in Columbus. This also isn’t the first time the troupe has taken on “The Rocky Horror Show,” but new cast members and a new stage has reinvigorated the 1975 sleeper hit.
The sexually ambiguous tale follows straight-and-narrow, newly engaged couple Brad and Janet (John Boyd and Leah Haviland) as they happen upon the mansion of evil alien scientist Dr. Frank N. Furter and his merry band of horny “sweet transvestites” from the planet Transylvania. The couple finds themselves, willingly and not-so-willingly, forced into one compromising situation after another.
For Shadowbox’s rendition Director and Executive Producer Stev Guyer trades flashy set pieces for keen character work, inspired staging and a much larger costume budget. During “Over at the Frankenstein Place,” as Brad and Janet make their way to the suspicious looking Frank N. Furter mansion after an unlucky flat tire in the rain, they weave their way through the crowd as chorus members pop up, interpretive dance style, amongst the audience, guiding them to the castle. Katy Psenicka’s choreography continues to impress as the cast flanks themselves throughout the audience during many scenes, taking advantage of the larger space.
The actors were also in rare form. Boyd and Haviland are perfectly perky as the do-gooder couple, set off nicely by Edelyn Parker and Amy Lay as the perfectly mischievous Magenta and Columbia respectively. Tom Cardinal does a foreboding and annoyed Riff Raff well, while a nearly-naked, pecks-flexing Billy DePerto adds charm and naïveté to the clueless Rocky Horror, a hunky Frankenstein-style creation of Frank N. Furter’s.
Supporting characters also shined, such as Betsy Shortt who fully committed to making the Narrator shine. She spent much of her time either quick-changing backstage or entertaining the audience with a new accent. She hilariously morphed from stilt-walker to dwarf to overgrown child to an overweight male eating popcorn. But “The Rocky Horror Show” is really only as good as it’s Frank N. Furter and JT Walker III is a transsexual force to be reckoned with. He struts, he belts, he whips wit and kills with ease. All the necessary traits needed to master the iconic gender-bending character.
I only took issue with “Hot Patootie,” sung by Furter’s former lover, Eddie (Jamie Barrow), just before Furter murders him amidst a romping dance number, and “Planet Schmanet – Wise Up Janet Weiss.” Both were significant moments that came off underwhelming.
Shadowbox house band Bill Who? effortlessly took on O’Briens rock score. In there old space at Easton Town Center, a shoddy sound system often had the band overpowering the vocals to the point of being unable to hear the lyrics, a problem that’s gladly no longer an issues at the new space.
After nearly four years of attending Shadowbox performances, the costumes for their “Rocky” return are the best I’ve ever seen from the troupe. It’s as if there’s been an explosion of creativity in the Shadowbox Art Department. Art Director Amy Lay and Costume Designer Kaitlin Descutner properly dress up the men in fishnet and stilettos, but add a sparkled, psychedelic Alice in Wonderland/Cirque-du-Soleil theme to the cast’s overall costuming. Many times simply what the actors were wearing was enough to steal the show. Pre-recorded video and other projections also helped increase the production value.
Despite a phenomenal showcase, I did think the Shadowbox crew dropped the ball on the audience participation factor that’s become such a necessary part of the “Rocky Horror” fabric. The program includes a list of audience do’s and don’ts, alluding to the pandemonium that typically takes place at “shadow cast” versions of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” practiced in many movie theaters around the country. A few people shouted the popular “shadow cast callback script” at the stage, which became more distracting than amusing. (Personally, I don’t think there’s room for any of the “shadow cast” antics during a staging of the original play.) However during the popular “Time Warp,” when participation is expected, only two people in the crowd stood up to sport their pelvic thrusts. With such a large space, this could have easily been remedied by the cast members returning to the audience and playfully forcing a few people out of their chairs, allowing everyone else to follow suit.
During any version of “Rock Horror” the crowd has to participate in the “Time Warp,” I’m pretty sure it’s in The Constitution. But this isn’t the main reason why one goes to see a production of “Rocky Horror.” Why does one? Men in lingerie, of course. And this show has the latter in spades.
“The Rocky Horror Show” runs 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays through November 13 at Shadowbox Live (503 S. Front Street, Columbus). Tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for students/seniors. For more information call 614-416-7625 or visit www.shadowboxlive.org.