I have a confession: I was a gay man long before I ever saw The Rocky Horror Show in any of its incarnations, and I intend to remain that way despite the best efforts of The Bachelor. Still, seeing the Dallas Theater Center’s full-on erection of Richard O’Brien’s puzzling, explosive cult classic did not make me more gay … as if that were possible. It’s a musical for people who don’t think of it as musical, a rock opera for those who couldn’t care less about pop music, a drag show for those who don’t know what drag is and a spoof of a genre without a huge following. The Rocky Horror Show is theatrical tofu: All things to all people, if can be almost anything you want it to be.
Except safe. At least, not the way director Joel Ferrell and his team of collaborators at the DTC have turned out this oddly entrenched stage granddaddy, now more than 40 years old but still as relevant (and buoyantly irrelevant) as a piece of witty entertainment can be. The plot — eh; I guess you’d call it that — is about a cross-dressing weirdo with the unlikely name Frank-N-Furter (Dan Domenech) who presides over strange biogenetic engineering that allows him to “create” the perfect mate: a four-percent-body-fat muscle-twink with the haircut of Melchor from Spring Awakening named Rocky (Justin Labosco). Witnesses to all this Tesla-coiled madness are chaste sweethearts Brad (“Asshole!”) and Janet (“Slut!”), played with a look of Wonder Bread by Alex Organ and Morgan Mabry Mason. The sleight-of-hand of the show is: It parodies ’50s-era sci-fi films while undercutting them with the sense of sexual desperation and reckless abandon that you know the actors playing these roles 60 years ago wished they could have imparted.
The intent aside, Rocky Horror has never made clear exactly what universe its spoofiness comes from (though, perhaps, the galaxy of Transylvania). The opening number, “Science Fiction Double Feature,” is a precious “list” song, mentioning old movies like Forbidden Planet, Flash Gordon and The Invisible Man, but the artistic antecedents end there. It has more in common with Kinky Boots than The Day of the Triffids. It’s a musical mashup of the LSD-fueled variety, a trippy, extravagantly tasteless exercise in campy excess. You either get it or you don’t.
I get it — even though I was never one of the teens who traipsed to the mall at midnight on Saturday to throw toast at the screen dressed in fishnets and guyliner. Actually, a lot of the audience members on opening night at the Wyly did just that, and if you had a seat where you could spy the faces of season ticketholders as well as the onstage action, you could tell who was into it and who was flummoxed. Some didn’t get it. But no one was bored.
That’s because Ferrell & Co. have turned a frothy bit of energetic ribaldry into something more resembling a BDSM fashion show. It’s dark and Goth, with Andy Warhol-esque excesses and the punk sensibility of a rave at CBGB, but without the hepatitis and tainted X. The music is provided by the band Zoe Destroyer, in costume and as essential to the show as the actors. Transylvanians dangle from the rafter while a parade of side-show wannabes in Lederhosen, leather and high heels strut around, doing the “Time Warp” while key audience members shout back lines at them. The actors occasional shout back or are caught smiling like Harvey Korman in a sketch with Tim Conway. It’s all very fun. It’s all very funny.
And endlessly entertaining. Heck, you can even buy a goodie bag filled with the accoutrements of interaction — toilet paper, water pistols — to feel like you’re in high school again.
The singing and acting (more about enthusiasm than character development, to be honest) dazzle as the show’s music-box-on-speed style keeps everything moving along like a runaway train. Domenech doesn’t make his entrance until midway into Act 1, and the jolt of electricity he brings almost makes you forget about the plot involving Brad (“Asshole!”) and Janet (“Slut!”), but don’t worry — they take focus back.
Walter Lee Cunningham’s androgynous Columbia is a sly casting choice (it does make Frank seem even gayer) and J. Brent Alford’s Masterpiece Theatre diction turns the role of the narrator into a Stephen Colbert-ish collaborator in the faux duplicity. It’s all raucous and sexy and un-self-censoring — a play that lost its superego when it realized there was fun to be had.
I walked away thinking more about the images — Chamblee Ferguson’s Douglas-Fairbanks-in-Bea-Arthur-drag version of Riff Raff, Liz Mikel’s butch take on Eddie, Mason’s Douglas Sirk-inspired bad girl, Jeremy Dumont’s surefootedness high-kicking in heels and a mane, Labosco’s … well, where do I start? — than the scenes. That makes sense. When you go to the circus, it’s not what ring the acts performed in but the amazement they left you with that matters.