ArtsATL > Theater > Review: All camp and black lace, the Actor’s Express version of “Rocky Horror” is a visual feast

Review: All camp and black lace, the Actor’s Express version of “Rocky Horror” is a visual feast

Craig Waldrip stars as Frank N. Furter in "Rocky Horror." (Photo by BreeAnne Clowdus)
Craig Waldrip stars as Frank N. Furter in "Rocky Horror" at Actor's Express (Photo by BreeAnne Clowdus)
Craig Waldrip stars as Frank ‘N’ Furter in Rocky Horror. (Photo by BreeAnne Clowdus)

Sure, there are some great songs, a bit of campy fun with schlocky B-movie tropes and an irresistably giddy sense of sexual freedom. But beyond that, does anyone really know what Rocky Horror is about? Is there a point to any of it?

Before the opening night performance of a new production at Actor’s Express (running through August 9), audience members were invited to identify themselves by how many times they’d seen Rocky Horror. A sizable number had seen incarnations of the show 50 times or more. I have the sense that even these fans would struggle to articulate a good reason for anything happening on stage or off. That’s part of the fun, I suppose, and those hungry for something along those lines — freaky, kinky and utterly pointless, chaotic, participatory fun — could do no better this summer than this boisterous new production.

The now-familiar plot (if that’s the right word) of Rocky Horror has the straight-laced couple Brad and Janet seeking help on a dark, rainy night at the castle of Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter, a cross-dressing mad scientist in the midst of creating a muscle man. There are a few inventive additions, and the talented cast puts a new spin on a few particulars, but overall the look and feel of the characters, the vision of the show, sticks too closely to the 1975 movie. 

Craig Waldrip is appropriately flashy, big-voiced and outrageous as Frank ‘N’ Furter, and his red mohawk gives the part a fresh, punkish visual edge. But in both his singing and speaking voice, he sticks too closely to Tim Curry’s interpretation of the role. Still, Waldrip works a fantastic stage entrance with a rousing version of “Sweet Transvestite” and manages a gorgeous final exit with a touching “I’m Going Home.” 

Jeremiah Parker Hobbs in the part of RiffRaff has some show-stealing moments, as in his dreamy second verse of “Over at the Frankenstein Place” or the strangely verbose but rousing number “Transit Beam.” Jill Hames plays with aplomb bad boy Eddie and superauthority Dr. Scott, but both characters are designed to look exactly as they did in the movie. I wasn’t a fan of Diany Rodriguez’s opening number as a Betty Boop–voiced usherette performing “Science Fiction Double Feature,” but strangely enough, I thought her down-tempo reprise of the same song sung in the same style at the end sounded fantastic, one of the highlights of the show.

The final act of the live production takes on an even stranger, more melancholy tone than the movie thanks to a couple of additional numbers, “Once in a While” and “Super Heroes,” which were part of the original stage show but were excised from the film. Benjamin Davis as Brad and Randi Garza as Janet really shine in these late numbers, fleshing out the oddly plaintive ending mood.

The tradition of audience participation emerged not at the original live production, but at midnight showings of the movie after its initial (somewhat pallid) release. Still, audience participation has become a tradition at the live shows now, as well, and there were instances of it at this new production. I thought they ranged from genuinely funny to downright annoying.

Anyway, it’s a fun, light-as-a-feather-boa production to see in the summertime, but the feeling — with fishnets, gothic makeup, stage fog, fake blood and body parts — is very Halloween, so it occasionally feels out of place. 

Also, our threshold for being shocked or weirded out by anything on-stage has been blown through the roof by the Internet and our general culture: it’s certainly not what it was in 1973 or 1975, when the show and the movie, respectively, premiered. Watching the show, I was about to conclude that there’s really not much left that could shock or amuse audiences the way it must have back in the day. But when Rodriguez as Magenta did a particular sight-gag with a feather-duster, it utterly squashed that line of thinking. Whatever it is audiences seek at Rocky Horror, it’s clear they’re going to find it at this new production, even 50 times and more.

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