Rocky Horror Energy in Live Close-Up with Alchemist

Oct. 6, 2015
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There are parallels between Spamalot and The Rocky Horror Show. I’ve seen a few different productions of Spamalot over the years. The most interesting experience I’d had with the show was at an intimate, little studio theater south of downtown that is now defunct. Spamalot is based around a cult classic film from the '70s. Everyone going to the show knew the musical comedy intimately. There was this fantastic synthesis between audience, performers, seats and stage.  

As fun as it was seeing that tiny, little production of Spamalot, the experience of seeing a cult classic staged in an intimate studio theatre was that much more intense with Alchemist Theatre’s production of Rocky Horror. The theatre was sold-out. Everyone in the audience knew the story from beginning to end and every song in between. The flow of energy between performers, performance and audience was seamless. The Alchemist show may not be interactive the way screenings of the classic film are, but being in an intimate space with a group of people who know exactly what they’re going to see (and already know that they love it) is kind of amazing. It’s a...clean...kind of energy where audience and performance enter this weird sort of duality because everyone there seems so completely familiar with the material. Spamalot doesn't have quite the same feel. It's a different kind of energy that feels a bit more traditional. 

People are, however, used to seeing The Rocky Horror Picture Show. People are used to seeing this thing in cinemas and playing along to it. There aren’t many films that bear that kind of distinction. And though there are people who act right along with the film at the screenings, the film is still there. So going to see an entirely live production could potentially be kind of stressful for a fan. It could have been entirely in my head, but I distinctly felt a sense of relief coming from the audience as the show progressed. Yes: the production is good. Yes: there are some really amazing performances. Yes: the set and lighting are very, very good and very, very immersive in a way that film cannot be. Even as everyone else in the theatre was getting a sense of relief, I was getting a little numb to it.

See here’s my deal: I love the idea for the show and I love the inspiration behind it, but I didn’t feel that the film was the best way to tackle it aesthetically. With the same songs and with the same story and with the same lines one could produce a show with an entirely different feel that played with the deliciously bizarre mix of moods and plot elements that are the show’s trademark, Richard O'Brien's work has the potential to be this deliciously ragged mash-up of different moods and poses that pay homage to horror and science fiction. The plot throws-around so many disparate moods and plot elements that beg for garish contrasts and sudden jolts of weird, dazzlingly saturnine energies that the film never quite harnesses. It would be fun to manipulate. Play with it too much, though and you're not giving people what they love. Alchemist is wise to stick very close to the cinematic icon that has survived for decades, but I'm distracted by what I'd always wanted to see in the film.

I’m sitting and seeing a beautifully-executed live production of something so many people are familiar with from old cinema and . . . I’m enjoying myself. But I’m not feeling the dizzy smash cut transition between the beginning of the story and, “The Time Warp” that I always wanted to be there. I’m enjoying the show but I’m not feeling the sudden, blindingly euphoric rush of Eddie's aggressive enthusiasm splashing out of “Hot Patootie - Bless My Soul,” that I’d always wanted to see. The potential dynamic range and mind-numbingly strange potential of the premise never really hits me the way I'd always wanted it to.

Fans, however, are purists who absolutely love what the film did. (If they didn't, maybe it would have only run continuously in cinemas for . . . I don't know . . . only ten or twenty years.) The fans made this movie a cinematic hit the way few are. They love a live show that remains true to the film they love. Granted, the ensemble manages to find its own way to the characters. The incomparable Nathan Wesselowski, for instance, isn't trying to be Tim Curry as Dr. Frank. The audience loves him anyway. Deviate too much and it would be just..people going to a show. It wouldn't be the alchemic synthesis we feel from this production. Being there in a sold-out crowd is positively euphoric. To alienate them with anything other than what they want would be sheer folly. Just follow the momentum and let the rest follow. Remember: It’s just a jump to the left...

Tickets are still available for Alchemist’s largely sold-out run of Rocky Horror Show. For ticket reservations, visit the Alchemist online. (As of this writing, seats are available for Thursday night shows only with some seats left for Friday, Oct. 30.) My full review of the show runs in the Shepherd Express.

UPDATE: The Alchemist recently sold-out the entirety of its run of Rocky Horror. There are tickets now available for a one-performance extension on Oct. 25. The performance starts at 7:30 p.m. To reserve tickets, visit the reservation page for the performance

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