Review: SummerFest's 'Rocky Horror' is sexy tour de force

Contributing Culture CriticJuly 22, 2011 

  • IF YOU GO

    'The Rocky Horror Show'

    What: SummerFest's production of Richard O'Brien's musical.

    When: Through July 24. Show at 9 p.m.

    Where: The Arboretum amphitheater, 500 Alumni Dr.

    Tickets: $12 in advance, $15 at gate for general admission; $15/$18 reserved chair seating; $55/$70 reserved blanket space for four. Go to Summerfestlex.org or call 1-866-811-4111.

    Notes: Rocky Horror has frank sexual content, including simulated sex. SummerFest does not recommend the show for anyone younger than 16. Rice, a common item to bring to movie theaters for showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, is strictly prohibited at The Arboretum because it poses a health risk to birds.

Since the mid-1970s, Richard O'Brien's musical The Rocky Horror Show has been one of pop culture's touchstones in regard to the so-called sexual revolution.

Especially in its incarnation as a classic cult film, Rocky Horror has challenged audiences to question traditional gender roles and mores for almost 40 years.

Now, SummerFest's thrillingly raunchy production, under the direction of Wes Nelson, will provoke and titillate Lexington audiences by holding the mirror up to our socio-sexual constructs, forcing us to think about how we handle our deepest erotic desires, and what that behavior reveals about us, individually and collectively.

The cast is superb. Their singing is on a much higher level than this rock musical usually obtains, and they all create complex characterizations that go beyond the usual campy exhibitionism. It takes real bravery to explore brazen sexuality in front of an audience, and the whole company is to be commended for confronting this difficult material in such a way as to make it meaningful rather than tawdry.

As the transvestite mad scientist Frank-n-furter, Christopher Baker gives a tour de force performance. He plays the role with ferocious intensity and a harrowing dramatic truth that is riveting to watch, almost as if he were acting out your own private sexual fantasies, whatever they may be. His resonant bass voice further imbues his characterization with unexpected power and nuance. The highlight of this production is his diva-style ballad I'm Going Home, equal parts poignant self-revelation and drag-queen flair.

As Brad and Janet, the ingénues who undergo transformative journeys of sexual self-discovery, Wood Van Meter and Meaghan Sharrard embrace their characters as real people drawn with broad gestures rather than as cartoonish stereotypes. Van Meter in particular has a charismatic stage presence and demonstrates a pleasing voice in his solos. Sharrard marshals her vocal resources impressively while exerting herself in extremely aerobic staging.

Whit Whitaker as Rocky, Fran-n-furter's hunky creation, approaches the character as a sex object straining to develop a soul, like a muscle-man Marilyn Monroe. His long-proven skills as a singer and dancer are utilized well in this role, and his stunning physique presents all that Rocky should be. In fact, all the performers in this show are just scandalously good-looking.

Frank-n-furter's three servants Riff-raff (Jerome MacIlvaine), Magenta (Alicia Cox), and Columbia (Cindy Head) are fabulous characters, and these performers give delightfully lascivious portrayals. Head especially energizes the stage with her phenomenal dancing and dazzling smile, and Cox belts her tunes with rock-star abandon.

Matt Seckman succeeds as the rough-trade Eddie, but is less clear in what he is trying to convey as the Narrator, whom he plays as a vaguely Cockney rogue. Nevertheless, the sexy menace of Seckman's stage presence is enthralling.

Special kudos are due to Patrick Howell for his eye-popping costumes, which are gorgeously detailed and astonishingly lewd.

Jenny Fitzpatrick's choreography is seamlessly interwoven with Nelson's staging, and between her fantastic troupe of dancers and Dathan Powell's inventive set, the stage is constantly energized with swirling movement. Danny Bowling's lighting is atmospheric, but sometimes fails to illuminate the characters adequately or to draw the audience's attention to the proper point of focus. Musical director Meg Stohlmann and the wonderful Johnson Brothers Band provide excellent support, but the sound mix could be more grateful to the singers, and Wednesday's microphone troubles in the second act marred an otherwise great opening night.

I applaud SummerFest's courage to mount such an explicit spectacle in this region, attaining a significant cultural marker in our society's evolving perceptions of sexuality. Check your morals at the door, but don't miss this show.

Tedrin Blair Lindsay is a musician, theater artist and lecturer at the University of Kentucky.

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