Hot patootie, bless my soul!
The Warehouse Theatre shines a glittery gold-lamé light over in the Frankenstein place, and on its Opening Night, you wanna talk about dynamic … tension?
As WHT opened its 42nd season, that same evening on the other end of town, a packed house wanted to Take America Back (to where? heaven help us). In our own West End, a packed house was doing the time warp again, back to London’s West End and back to American movie houses in the ’70s, back to the manic days of madcap musicals and the cacophony of campy carnality.
The show’s about a madman whose lifestyle in a creepy world and too-tight corset has gotten “too extreme” as he seduces his prey and creates the man of his dreams. (And that’s just what was going on at Bon Secours Wellness Arena, never mind the rollicking show on the opposite end of town.)
Yes, WHT’s season-opening ROCKY HORROR SHOW is yet another gift from Greenville’s own Satanic mechanic, the theatre’s artistic director Paul Savas. Once again, in the face of so much an … tice … a … pay … tion, his “We’ve Got Guts” company walks the walk, this time in fabulously high heels.
Here, cast and crew pull off a monumentally difficult trick: If you stray too far from a cult classic’s original material, fans may riot, but if you don’t take ownership of that same material, you risk falling as hard as a large transvestite tripping on those same heels. Giddily, the theatre pulls it off, along with plenty of clothing, ensuring freshness and vibrancy that deserves a sell-out run.
It would be downright impossible to duplicate the genius of the 1975 film, with writer/performer Richard O’Brien, the brilliant Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N. Furter, the sultry Susan Sarandon as Janet, and geeky Barry Bostwick as Brad. And playhouses across the country still mirror the musical’s debut at London’s Royal Court Theatre (Upstairs) in June 1973. (That theatre’s capacity is about 85, and the Warehouse, at roughly double that, is equally intimate.)
WHT delivers the goods because of our blessedly rarefied talent here. As the corseted star, Brian Clowdus is a force of alien proportion. His Frank is frankly every bit as good as Curry’s, with a bravado and, yes, beauty, all his own. As the towering transsexual, the comely Atlantan sings, kicks up those heels as high as any Radio City Music Hall Rockette, and handles the effusive crowd with delightful ad-libbing aplomb.
In fact, the audience does play a big role here, with gleeful par … tice … a … pay … tion. As instructed, and as most already came prepared to do, they yelled “Asshole!” at every mention of newlywed Brad and “Slut!” whenever Janet was named, along with all manner of other well-timed ejaculations.
Like the time in the wedding scene between Frank and Rocky Horror—the tasty Briton James D. Fawcett, who plays the muscle man clad only in a Union Jack Speedo—one of the consistently loudest fans screamed, “Eat your heart out, Princess Di!” Whereupon Clowdus turned to the voice and frowned with winking mockery, “Too soon.”
The other sparkler in the show’s fireworks is Chelsea Ann Atkins. She’s blonde. She’s beautiful. She’s got a smoldering body, of which we get to ogle aplenty, thanks to her skimpy undergarments. And she gives to the production another of its best features: its heady erotica.
While the film offers a whiff of the script’s carnal ever-present steam, Atkins and especially Magenta (the stunning Miranda Barnett), along with Clowdus and Fawcett, generate enough heat to ensnare even more intense voyeuristic intention from the already-lusty crowd.
Perhaps lost in the frenetic gaiety of all this is the local back story. Director Richard St. Peter pulls off a miracle given that he was forced to drop out before Opening Night for personal reasons. Considering that his previous Warehouse outing was a challenging “Avenue Q,” the Clemson University theater professor and PhD deserves more than just a tiara for bringing to life a Charles Atlas production under such tough circumstances. (Our heartfelt prayers and deepest appreciation, Dr. St. Peter.)
St. Peter’s staging rocks with multiple creative flourishes; Brad and Janet’s broken-down car alone is worth the ticket price. And designer Will Lowry’s set is just right—simple and functional, without being showy and yet enhancing the steamiest scenes.
The entire cast performs admirably and ably, too, clearly supporting their immensely talented lead and all obviously having a ball. Equally generous acclaim belongs to the five-piece band, as well. O’Brien’s timeless, on-your-feet ’50s rock shimmers and shakes, with keyboardist Janice Issa Wright doing Jerry Lee Lewis-worthy ivory-tickling, while her band mates deliver a “Time Warp” and “Eddie” that remain stuck in your head.
The Warehouse Theatre and a ballsy production like this one remind us that America doesn’t need to go back anywhere, except to the good ol’ days of unadulterated fun. Its ROCKY HORROR urges us to take a jump to the left and a step to the right, to do the pelvic thrust toward the box office for the show’s run through Halloween. Don’t go just to support the art or the theatre, though those are indeed worthy reasons, but because, dammit, Janet, you owe yourself one hell of a good time.