Rocky Horror Comes Home!
by Barbara Waldinger
Did you know that Rocky Horror Picture Show, the iconic, campy horror film, originated as a stage play? Here in America it was easy to miss. Although the 1973 London production of The Rocky Horror Show ran for over seven years, its 1975 Broadway debut closed after only 45 performances. This musical spoof of science fiction and B horror movies seemed destined for the trash heap in the U.S. Were Richard O’Brien’s music, lyrics and book never to cross the pond again?
Not to worry! In 1976 Twentieth Century Fox released The Rocky Horror Picture Show, directed by its original London director, Jim Sharman, screenplay by O’Brien and Sharman, and starring the incomparable Tim Curry, who originated the role of Dr. Frank N. Furter, a mad scientist.
A year later some marketing genius came up with the idea of screening the film at midnight at New York City’s Waverly Theatre. Unpredictably, The Rocky Horror Picture Show developed cult status, as young audiences flocked to the movie theatre, decked out in the costumes of their favorite characters, and took to talking back to the screen, throwing things, lip-synching the lines and creating their own counter-point dialogue. And they didn’t stop. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the longest-running release in film history, still limited after forty years, often shown, appropriately, around Halloween.
But the stage play is rarely seen hereabouts. How would the Town Players of Pittsfield manage to recreate the theatre version on the enormous stage of Berkshire Community College’s Boland Theater? The answer is Matthew T. Teichner: Director, Scenic Designer, Lighting Designer and Projections Designer extraordinaire. A concert lighting director who has designed and operated lights for more than 100 national and international touring artists, Teichner skillfully catapults this production to life using a variety of tools, from a simple work light to spotlights, a colorful, ever-changing cyclorama, bright white beams hitting the audience, fog lighting and circular patterns on the walls of the set, accompanied throughout the production by a series of still and moving projections. Several familiar horror movie shots begin the performance, introduced by an usherette (Tara Hostash) who hearkens us back to the time of “science fiction double features.” From then on the wildly colorful projections provide a stunning visual backdrop to the action of the play.
Teichner’s set is simple and utterly effective: four tall scaffolding structures with platforms and climbing bars provide the playground on which the phantoms hang out and hang from during the performance. Between them is a raised stage with steps on either side, a catwalk above and a downstage thrust between two open orchestra pits, the whole resembling the backstage of a theatre. Surprisingly there are two periaktoi, tall, thin, triangular structures upstage left and right, borrowed from ancient Greek theatre, that each revolve to display two different painted settings.
But will the bizarre movie experience translate to the stage? Most definitely. In an unusual marriage of film and theatre, knowledgeable young audience members, many dressed in costume, adapt the traditional film responses and paraphernalia to the theatre. They are aided and abetted by the Town Players, who, for a mere three dollars, supply a paper bag with the props required for audience participation, including water guns (to create a storm), colored wands, playing cards, and toilet paper—presumably a nod to the character named Dr. Scott (Brian Litscher). Cognoscenti in the audience (plus plants from the cast) routinely call out off-color comments and rude questions aimed at the characters. Most of the actors proceed unperturbed, with the very funny exception of the narrator (Jackie DeGiorgis), who fights back, dials her agent to complain about these unwelcome interruptions, and finally drowns her misery in some giant liquid refreshment. For the most part, however, the interjections are a welcome part of the fun. When usherette Hostash invites the audience to rise and learn the Time Warp steps (choreography by Alexandra Lindsay), she’s preaching to the choir—they’re on their feet already.
The costume designer, Sean Baldwin, taking his cue from Sue Blane’s film designs, provides the actors with ripped fishnet stockings, dyed hair, corsets, boas, and sexy underwear. They look like punk rockers who resemble Alan Cumming’s Cabaret dancers. Baldwin’s outfit for the ingénue Janet Weiss (Megan Morse) is a delicious pink concoction; for the phantoms, skin tight leotards/leggings—good for climbing; and for the aliens–glittery suits. The cast does an impressive job with their hair, wigs, and make up.
The actor/singers deliver energetic, over-the-top performances, but the lyrics cannot be heard, despite amplification, as the exuberant band overpowers the vocals. The convoluted plot involves a couple, played by the earnest Brendan Brierley and Megan Morse, who, driving in a storm, suffer a flat tire. Seeking assistance, they happen upon the mansion of the perverse but brilliant Dr. Furter (Alexander Benson), who has invented an artificial muscle man named Rocky (the athletic Kevin Miner). Mayhem ensues, involving time warps, phantoms, Transylvanians, space aliens, a motorcycle, and orgies. Even under normal circumstances the story would be hard to follow, but in the Town Players production, much is lost on those who haven’t seen the film multiple times.
The actors are game and bring tremendous zest to their ridiculous characters. Especially noteworthy are Alexander Benson as the transvestite scientist who seduces nearly everyone who stumbles into his castle; Brendan Brierley, whose lovely second-act ballad is not overwhelmed by the band, revealing his resonant voice; Brian McBride Land as Riff Raff, the doctor’s assistant, with his fabulous wig and weird speaking voice; Jackie DeGiorgis, who knows how to fool with the audience; and Isabelle Caffero as Columbia, with those sensational high boots and strong voice.
Congratulations to the talented Matthew T. Teichner and his creative team, on and offstage, for bringing this cult film back to its roots in the theatre!
The Rocky Horror Show runs from October 20-29 Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 6:00pm at the Boland Theater. For tickets call 413-443-9279 or www.townplayers.org online.
Town Players of Pittsfield present The Rocky Horror Show by Richard O’ Brien. Director, Set Designer, Lighting Designer, Projections Designer: Matthew T. Teichner. Cast: Tara Hostash (Usherette Trixie); Brendan Brierley (Brad Majors); Megan Morse (Janet Weiss); Jackie DeGiorgis (Narrator); Brian McBride Land (Riff Raff); Isabel Costa (Magenta); Isabelle Caffero (Columbia); Alexander Benson (Frank ‘N’ Furter); Kevin Miner (Rocky); Joey Rainone (Eddie); Brian Litscher (Dr. Scott). Musical Director: Jeffrey W. Hunt; Choreographer: Alexandra Lindsay; Costume Designer: Sean Baldwin; Sound Designer: Rob Dumais; Assistant Director/Stage Manager: Kathryn Bellizzi. Running Time: 2 hours fifteen minutes, including intermission; The Boland Theater, 1350 West Street, Pittsfield, MA. ; Fridays through Sundays from October 20; closing October 29, 2017.