'Rocky Horror' Not Typical Broadway

Thursday, November 9th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) — Break out the fishnet stockings and rubber gloves!

``The Rocky Horror Show'' is about to open at Circle in the Square, and the sci-fi rock musical can only be fun if middle-aged, middle-Americans leave their middle-class sensibilities at home.

Based on the hugely popular movie ``The Rocky Horror Picture Show,'' which in turn was based on a stage show, the revival features a garter-clad transvestite known as Dr. Frank N. Furter — eyes heavily shadowed in blue. He's joined by an eerie crew including Riff Raff and Magenta, a ghoulish brother-sister pair who plot Frank's demise, and Columbia, known by her gold-lame tails and black Mary Janes.

Frank, played by Tom Hewitt, who played Scar in ``The Lion King,'' is a sort of over-sexed mad scientist who grows heady with the success of bringing his own Frankenstein's monster to life. But instead of a green-faced, 7-foot deformity, Frank's creation is a super-buff boy-toy named Rocky.

Rocker Joan Jett makes her Broadway debut as Columbia. And, yes, she does shed the tails and Mary Janes for her signature leather. Raul Esparza, whose previous work was mostly in Chicago theater, is Riff Raff; and Daphne Rubin-Vega, who won critical acclaim for her role of the junkie Mimi in ``Rent,'' plays Magenta.

Set inside a dreary castle, the bawdy, gaudy, off-color ``Rocky'' doesn't fit the typical Broadway formula. But it nicely echoes the zaniness that has made the silver screen version a standard at midnight movie houses for 25 years. Frank supplies the double-entendres, but it's up to the audience to do the rest.

So be prepared.

First, pack a bag. Bring newspaper, confetti, a pen light and a deck of cards — maybe a roll of Scott's toilet paper, if you can. After all, audience participation is what ``Rocky Horror'' is all about, and you can't do the job without the proper tools.

The plot, if there is one, tells the story of the ever-so-virginal Janet Weiss (famously played by Susan Sarandon in the movie) and fiance Brad Majors. Their car breaks down on a dark and stormy night, leaving them stumbling through the rain to a castle where Frank (Tim Curry in the movie, and in the original London and New York plays) hosts a gaggle of transsexuals from the galaxy Transylvania as he unveils Rocky.

Moviegoers traditionally act out the scenes right in front of the screen, with screaming patrons jumping from their seats to dance along.

At a recent showing in Manhattan's East Village, so many people sassed the screen it was impossible to hear the dialogue — a blessing considering how ridiculous the movie is on its own.

But the fun in this flick isn't the show itself; it's seeing it with 20 of your friends.

That's because ``Rocky Horror'' is THE CLASSIC cult classic. Produced by 20th Century Fox, the movie debuted in 1975 as a sort of ``Star Trek'' meets ``La Cage aux folles'' meets ``The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.'' It produced its own subculture after a guerrilla cadre of punks and cross-dressers made it a hit in the 1970s by flocking to late-night showings dressed like the characters, toting props to mimic the action on screen and shouting one-liners to fill pauses in the script.

For example, after Frank takes an ax to rival Eddie, he peels off his bloody rubber gloves, hands them to Magenta and the crowd shouts: ``Here, put these behind O.J.'s house!''

The audience later asks Frank to explain his homicidal rage, demanding: ``Tell us what Dr. Kevorkian would say!''

``It was a ... mercy killing,'' comes Curry's next line.

And so the repartee flows. But it's not just the shouting. In the first frame — a wedding scene — rice rains down on the movie audience as if they were part of the revelry. Other items fly throughout, leaving the floor strewn with more garbage than popcorn.

Compare this to the snooze-o-rama at a recent stage preview. The Polo and Docker-clad patrons simply couldn't keep up.

But that should come as no surprise. The musical bombed in New York in 1975 despite strong performances by Curry and Meat Loaf, who played the doomed Eddie. It also starred Barry Bostwick as Brad, Pat Quinn as Magenta and Laura Campbell as Columbia.

In truth, ``Rocky Horror'' in the raw isn't much of a show. But you, dear theatergoer, can help the latest incarnation just as movie audiences nationwide did for the big screen version. YOU can make ``Rocky'' come alive. Here's how:

As wedding guests push out of the church in the opening scene, throw confetti — rice is discouraged. As Janet and Brad trudge through the rain with a newspaper over their heads, hold yours up, too (a copy of ``Playbill'' will do in a pinch). As they sing of spotting a light from the castle, flick on the pen light and hold it in the air. Every time Brad and Janet introduce themselves to another character, shout something cheeky after they say their names.

In the second act, ``Great Scott!'' is the TP cue, and the lyrics ``cards for sorrow, cards for pain'' signal time to toss a few from the deck.

It may seem strange to toss junk around during a live theater performance, but the producers say they're prepared. They WANT you to do it. They're even selling prop bags for $15 apiece in the lobby, including confetti and a light-up key chain. They haven't quite figured out how to clean up the theater fast enough, but the actors have at least been coached to clear debris in character, should the need arise.

If ``Rocky Horror'' strikes you as a bizarro mess, that's because it is! You'll almost surely have trouble following the action and remembering your lines. Fumbling with the props is a given.

So why did the producers risk bankrolling such a show? One word: desperation. Broadway's current dry spell has already brought a revival of ``Saturday Night Fever'' without a hint of irony. The live version of a movie that has grossed nearly $113 million is worth a shot.

Producer Jordan Roth says the film's 25-year run on college campuses and at midnight theaters should help turn his $3.5 million version gold.

``When Rocky was on Broadway the first time, it was before the movie and it was before the phenomenon,'' Roth says. ``We now can experience a kind of major live production on Broadway with 25 years of singing these songs and dressing up as these characters and shouting out lines.''

``Rocky Horror'' opens Nov. 15. Richard O'Brien, who starred as Riff in the movie, also wrote the book, music and lyrics. The director is Christopher Ashley.

So, swap the Brooks Brothers for a rain slicker, don a paper party hat and scoop up a handful of confetti.

``Rocky'' needs you.