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As Halloween approaches, many theatre companies across America are performing the cult classic The Rocky Horror Show. All casts bring something new and strange to every retelling of the tale, and Actor's Theatre of Charlotte's performance was no exception. It was filled with the raunchy humor and fantastic camp that audiences have come to know and love. And yet, ATC's diverse and versatile cast brought something completely new to the table. They brought Rocky Horror into contemporary times, making statements on sexuality and self-expression.
The Rocky Horror Show is a musical-turned-movie that pays tribute to the science fiction and B-rated horror movies of the 1930s. The Narrator tells the story of Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, two ingenue-types who end up with a flat tire during a storm shortly after becoming engaged. They seek help at the nearest house, unknowingly stepping into the world of a sexually insatiable genius, Dr. Frank-n-Furter, and his wild cohorts. The lovers find themselves witnessing Frank-n-Furter's latest science experiment, "a man with blond hair and a tan," several dramatically strange murders, and a return home via spacecraft, in that order.
Part of their Rock the Barn series, ATC's performance took place outdoors. Its concert-like staging was unfamiliar to me, but a welcome twist as this show is usually performed indoors. Audience members brought chairs and picnic blankets to sit beneath the trees and string lights. The casts' musical abilities were evident from the first number, "Science Fiction Double Feature." There was not a single weak vocalist in the entire company. Backed up with an ensemble not unlike a 60s doo-wop group, the actors take us through Brad and Janet's engagement and their rainy arrival at an old castle.
Upon arrival, our lovers partake in the classic "Time Warp." This cast's wonderfully contagious energy was a sight to see, encouraging us to join their "Time Warp" dance. This was followed by the stand-out performance of Christopher Magee as Dr. Frank-n-Furter. His "Sweet Transvestite" embraced the concert atmosphere of the show as his powerful voice rang out through the venue. Upon Brad and Janet's first encounter with Frank-n-Furter, it is revealed he has been creating a man in his laboratory. They quickly don lab coats to see his creation. To Frank-n-Furter's dismay, the raucous Eddie arrives via motorcycle. This interesting entrance is promptly cut short by Frank-n-Furter, who chops Eddie up in front of his cohorts and the sweethearts. With his final proclamation that he "can make you a man," we entered intermission.
At this time, I had a moment to really appreciate the space the designers, directors, cast, and crew had created for us. Erik Wagner noted in his director's notes that he wished to create a "safe space" where freedom of self-expression thrived. The staging of the show was up-close and personal, with little distance between performer and audience. The catchy nature of "Time Warp," along with the callouts at the mention of Brad and Janet's names, made for a sense of community where the separation between us and the world of the play became blurred in an exciting and fun way. After intermission, the show progressed to the unveiling of the creation, named Rocky (Jamaas Britton), with sexual innuendos and raunchy comedy littered throughout. Though the plot continues to twist and turn from here on out, the spectacle of camp continued through numbers like "Rose Tint My World" and "Don't Dream It – Be It." The last song, a reprise of "Science Fiction Double Feature," sung by the Usherette, beautifully wrapped up the show after a tumultuous ending. The cast was saluted with a standing ovation, and, of course, another opportunity to "do the time warp again!"
ATC's Rocky Horror brought new light to a classic. The show's interactions around sex were less about shock factor and more about removing any reservations the audience may have had about seeing such a provocative show. The use of modern slang twisted lines to make them cleverer to a 21st century audience, elevating the comedy of the piece. There was an understanding of acceptance in the air, with genderbending roles like Columbia and the unquestionable confidence of Frank-n-Furter's disregard for gendered stereotypes. Notable performances included Noemi Rabinowitz as Eddie in "Hot Patootie," Ariel Fisher as Janet in "Touch-a Touch-a Touch-a, Touch Me," and Ben McCarthy as Brad in "Once in a While." They encouraged each other and their audience to let loose and enjoy a performance that was unconventional, wild, and a little taboo. On Halloween night, they will have a special showing in which audience members are encouraged to come in costume and bring props to throw. If you're looking to relive past shadowcast performances of Rocky Horror, or experience it for the first time, Actor's Theatre of Charlotte's performance is the perfect opportunity to do so.
The Rocky Horror Show continues through Sunday, October 31. See our sidebar for more details.