When The Rocky Horror Show first opened in
In many respects, any group presenting The Rocky Horror Show is taking an audacious step; the rock musical is not an easy one to pull off. With its ‘R’ rated, risqué content and its lose structure, even attempting such a show is something to be admired, which is probably why we rarely get a chance to see a live production of Richard O’Brien’s outrageous comedy these days. For that alone Desert Stages should be commended.
The show is a send up of the classic ‘B’ movies of the forties and fifties, a time when low-budget sci-fi and horror adventures with low-grade special effects were released as double features at the drive-in. Today, the show is over-shadowed by the cult popularity of the film to the point where whole generations of Rocky Horror groupies have no clue that the film was ever a live show in the first place. As a consequence, the original cast members – many of whom were actually at that
Because the Desert Stages’ mainstage is a theatre-in-the-round, the whole show has to be re-imaged. When it comes to a new production of Rocky Horror a re-imaged production is definitely an advantage; it forces you to forget what you already know and look at the show in a completely new way. By presentation alone, and the way director JPauol C. Clemente has had to redesign the action to accommodate all four walls, it’s like seeing a brand new show with familiar songs.
As is the case with productions at Desert Stages, there are no sets and very little props to speak of, just costumes and performers who make their entrances from all four corners of the house. Like the recent production of Sunset Boulevard, walking into the intimate auditorium of the theatre is akin to walking into the very gothic mansion where most of the action is going to take place; the auditorium itself becomes a set, and you’re in it. The walls of the theatre are painted black while hanging from the ceiling in parts of the room are posters of the very same ‘B’ movies quoted in the opening song; among them, Forbidden Planet, When Worlds Collide and The Day The Earth Stood Still.
A lot of the show works well; the singing is particularly good from all members, with standouts being Andy Izquierdo’s surprisingly moving I’m Going Home, Ashlee Poynter and ensemble performing the funny Touch-A, Touch-A Touch Me, and the infectious Time Warp that can’t fail to get a theatre-in the-round bopping. But there are also some creative hiccups along the way.
The narrator is usually portrayed as the one character that walks through the production without being a part of it. He’s like a phantom, unseen by everyone else. He sets up the oncoming events to the audience and actually helps put things into perspective. The show’s plot is so flimsy that the narrator serves two purposes; he’s meant to be a funny send-up of the overly dramatic TV criminologists that presented their cases on TV during the fifties, plus he’s a centre-point that holds the show together just when it looks as though it’s about to fall apart. Desert Stages has the narrator’s lines performed by two members of the ensemble who look like mad scientists who then blend in with the rest of the cast. It doesn’t work as well. There’s a feel that there’s something constantly missing. Plus, some performers have a tendency to shout their lines, often turning into shrieks to the point where you can’t understand what they’re saying. In a small setting like Desert Stages, it’s really not necessary.
The band is a great addition, adding to that feel of a truly live performance, and the choreography is great fun, even if occasionally it all looks in danger of becoming cluttered in such a small surrounding. Those who already know the show will know what to expect. From the look on some of the audience members’ faces on Friday evening’s opening night performance, you can tell they weren’t quite sure what they were in for, which in a way for the rest of us was at times just as entertaining as the show itself.
Thanks to photographer Wade Moran for the use of his pictures.
To find out more regarding times, dates and tickets, CLICK HERE to go to the Desert Stages Theater website.
For more film and local theatre reviews, CLICK HERE to go to the David Appleford Film & Theatre website.
David Appleford is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society and the American Theatre Critics Association
To read more film and theatre reviews, plus navigate through archival material CLICK HERE to go to the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.