REVIEW: The Rocky Horror Show (NightBlue)

 

Lewd, crude ‘Rocky Horror’ an interactive event

 

FrankFloorShow

        
NightBlue Theater presents
    
The Rocky Horror Show
    
Written by Richard O’Brien
Directed by Chris Weise
Musical direction by
Jason Krumweide
at Stage 773*, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
Through Oct. 31  | 
Tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

I am old. How old am I? I am so old that the first time I saw “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” film, nobody threw toast. Or came in costume. Or talked back to the screen. Or did anything but sit there agape.

The next several occasions I viewed the film went just about the same. The rock opera about young Brad Majors and his fiancé Janet Weiss and their remarkable night with the degenerates "Over at the Frankenstein Place" was as yet unsullied by any of audience-participation shtick that accompanies any showing of the film today. And while the film phenomenon was in full swing by the time when, some years later, I first saw a production of the stage musical that had preceded the 1975 cult movie classic, no one in the audience did anything more than wear costumes and dance in the aisles during the closing reprise of "Time Warp."

I confess I enjoyed both film and play better that way. I don’t mind the toast tossing or the newspaper head covering, but I wish that theaters of both types would offer at least a few showings where they tell the peanut gallery to shut up so the rest of us can hear the show.

On the night I saw NightBlue Theater’s current production of The Rocky Horror Show, several audience members kept up such a running litany of interjections that it became difficult to follow the actors. That’s a pity, because many of them are strong performers, both as actors and singers. It’s difficult to do Rocky Horror without hamming it up too much, but Director Chris Weise and cast do an admirable job of keeping things in bounds.

On the other hand, Rocky Horror has two only slightly overlapping sets of fans — I’ll call them the nerds and the vulgarians. The nerds, among whom I count myself, can explain all the references in the opening "Science Fiction Double Feature" (a terrific song, but Usherettes Irene Patino and Carolyn Ewald could barely be heard over the audience in NightBlue’s production) and further can run through all of the science-fiction tropes creator Richard O’Brien so cleverly parodied throughout the musical. The vulgarians are mainly just titillated by the smut and funny underwear and enjoy being part of the show.

NightBlue, which sells $5 participation kits containing toast, confetti, newspapers and all the other accouterments, aims its production firmly toward the second group. Pre-show host Mark Stickney welcomes Rocky Horror "virgins" The%20Rocky%20Horror%20Show563_MainPicturefrom the audience on stage before the outset and engages them in a highly lewd contest as well as encouraging everyone to shout out during the show.

The production combines elements of both the stage musical and the film. The minimalist set and David E. Walters and Laura Zettergren‘s costumes put an emphasis on the prurient. Musical Director Jason Krumweide leads a fine four-piece band, playing keyboards himself with Ken Kazin on drums, Larry Sidlow on guitar and Donn De Santo on bass, although the volume sometimes overwhelms the singers — some of the women, especially, seem to be acoustically challenged, and several actors were using hand mikes, including, most oddly, Paul E. Packer as Rocky Horror, Frank N. Furter’s homemade muscle man. Packer has the right physique for but he lacks the part’s youthful innocence and sings at too deep a pitch.

Stickney goes on to play Eddie — with a great version of "Hot Patootie," including a great dance sequence with Katherine Cunningham, as Columbia — and Dr. Scott. Jennifer Reeves Wilson‘s choreography in other dance numbers, such as "Don’t Dream It Be It," sometimes seems messy.

Smooth-voiced Corey Mills plays an especially wimpy Brad Majors, which works very well against Erin O’Shea’s robust Janet Weiss. Eric Hawrysz makes a stiffer than usual Narrator. Megan Schemmel is a picture-perfect Magenta.

As mad scientist Frank N. Furter, Michael Bounincontro channels Tim Curry for all he’s worth, bringing little originality to the role, but doing a fine mimicry with a powerful voice. Kevin Buswell‘s Riff Raff has more novelty, if only because he starts out emulating Lurch.

If you’re looking for vulgarly raucous Halloween good times, NightBlue provides them, especially if you enjoy performing more than you like listening.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
   
   

*except Oct. 31, which will be at The Elbo Room

REVIEW: The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (abridged)

Great promise hobbled by vapid script

NBshks4web

NightBlue Performing Arts Company presents:

The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (abridged)

 

By the Reduced Shakespeare Company
Thru February 14th at Theatre Building Chicago (more info)

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

The myriad of shows penned by the Reduced Shakespeare Company (YouTube page) are a necessary by-product of theatre, something that someone would have thought of at some point or another. They provide a live-action, slightly-improvised, highly-goofy take on some of the cornerstones of Western civilization: Shakespeare, American History, the Holy Bible, Christmas. These ‘abridged’ versions are like a community college course taught by a Marx brother. Each show is crammed with highly-topical gags and audience participation. They are also highly relatable, since it’s a pretty safe bet that most Americans have a passing familiarity with Shakespeare or other highlights of literature (making the shows a decently lucrative bet for the producing companies). To be blunt, and at the risk of being called elitist, the series is theatre for those who don’t see much theatre. That’s not to say they can’t be enjoyable, as seen by NightBlue’s production of The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (abridged). The three-person cast has enormous energy and pounces on the jokes, but the show is hobbled by the vapidity of the RSC concept and writing.

NBshks4web The cast is incredibly earnest; it is obvious that they are having a great time and want you to have one, too. There is the blasé Mark Stickney, swilling a 40 while critiquing some of the best writing of all time. Then there is the tall Jamin Gahm, set on pushing his Method psychological techniques onto these 400 year old plays. The trio is rounded out by the rambunctious Jennifer Reeves Wilson, who throws her playful energy deep into the audience.

In a 2-hour marathon, we’re taken through a winding journey of all of the Bard’s plays. The show shouldn’t serve as a source for your high school English paper, though. Heavy artistic liberties are taken, but that’s sort of the point. Othello becomes a rap (this is the first show I’ve seen with an official “rap coach”), Titus Andronicus becomes a cooking show, and most of the histories are tossed into a royal, yet deadly, football game. Everything but Hamlet comprises Act I, while “the greatest play of all time” earns a close inspection for the whole of Act II. This includes a performance of the play backwards as well as a version clocking in under 20 seconds.

It is the parodies and goofy updates that work the best; the hip-hop rendition of Othello, when the all-white cast showcases their rhyming and beat-boxing abilities, is the high point of the show. My biggest critique of the show is that there is actually too much of Shakespeare’s original language. Besides the occasional ‘but soft’ and simply pointing out how hard it is to understand, it’s difficult to make his language really that funny. Whenever the show turns to performing the original texts is when the show teeters on becoming uninteresting. It is much funnier to see Gahm in drag running through the aisles and gagging because he believes vomiting on the audience is what defines the Shakespearean heroines.

There are also quite a few jokes that are either overplayed or not worth the effort, like an extensive mash-up of all the comedies/cast striptease. It’s funny for a little while, but once they’ve made the point that all the comedies are kind of the same, they run low on comic fuel. The ultra-current humor can be somewhat spotty, ranging from hilarious (spoofing the fact that this show is replacing NightBlue’s postponed production of A Chorus Line) to confusing (drawing a connection between Avatar and depression?). Even though these talented actors obviously have a gift for vaudevillian screwball comedy, overcoming the drabness of the script is a difficult feat for them and the audience.

 

Rating: ★★