Knocked out by ‘Rocky’

I’ll be honest with you from the start: I know every single lyric, line and dance step of “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” I first watched “Rocky Horror” with my mom on a dark and windy October night when I was 12 years old. Don’t ask me how many times I’ve seen the movie — it’s a staggering statistic that I don’t really want to talk about. I’ve wanted to see the staged musical live ever since.

“Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show,” the strange little musical that spawned 1975’s iconic “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” opened Sept. 15 at The Old Globe in San Diego. Critically panned during its first, short-lived Broadway run for being too showy and not tacky enough compared to its British roots, this production serves up the perfect mix of cheesy glitz.

Fans of “Rocky Horror” will be overjoyed from the second the iconic red lips ask the audience to silence their phones. The production opens with “Science Fiction Double Feature” sang by Riff Raff and Magenta, moonlighting as the usher and usherette respectively, from the aisles as B-film footage is projected onto the scrim.

From the very beginning, the show’s aesthetics are clear. With each change of scene and scenery, the cheese factor is kept at a comfortable high, delighting the audience with each transition. The main set, the lab in Frank N. Furter’s gothic castle, is full of useless hoses, knobs and blinking lights in true classic sci-fi fashion. Even the decrepit proscenium arch that frames the stage and the B-film projections take the audience from being mere bystanders to extras in a monster movie of the week.

As for the cast, every member of the relatively small company does a fantastic job. Though their roles are iconic to cult classic lovers, they have explored the quirks and oddities of their characters and found new and fabulous moments. From the dulcet tones of Janet (Jeanna de Waal) to the stunning rock ‘n’ roll operatics of Riff Raff (Jason Wooten), the show is not lacking in strong vocal performances.

The star of the show, Frank ‘n’ Furter (Matt McGrath) is no exception. Though Tim Curry’s stilettos are hard to fill, McGrath embodies the transsexual transvestite from Transylvania with sassy grace and amazing moments of purely masculine delivery. His departure from Curry’s Frank is refreshing, well-executed and helped the show feel current.

Neither the design nor the cast overshadows the other, making the production a cohesive and delightful event. Fans of all ages, whether they’ve been throwing rice at the screen in cinemas for 40 years or have never made it out to a live screening, will have a great time watching their favorite transvestites re-realized by The Old Globe’s cast and will delight at every in-joke and obscure reference to “Rocky” culture. The show’s a perfect package.

However, “Rocky” does not come without shortfalls. As much as I want nothing more than to bask in the glow of this production’s perfection, I can’t overlook the weaknesses inherent in it.

Though the show is called “Rocky Horror Show,” Rocky has historically never been a prominent character, and this production is no different. However, as beautiful and talented Sydney James Harcourt is as Rocky, the actor seems to be giving his character too much intellectual credit. Rocky is a glorified Frankenstein’s Monster written to be nothing more than a pretty face and a hot body for sexual objectification. Adversely, Harcourt’s Rocky quickly realizes his beauty and consequently finds an unlikely worldliness with it. Even so, I must admit that I still loved him.

Any other problems can be attributed to the book itself — pacing this high-energy, neck-breakingly fast show is a challenge that The Old Globe’s team takes in stride. The nature of “Rocky” makes it a flexible and casual affair — any potential slip ups can be explained away as a nuance that actually goes to enhance the purposeful tackiness.

But aside from the production itself, what really makes “Rocky” a worthwhile and necessary theatrical experience is the experience itself. Being a member of an audience full of people rocking fishnets, goggles, top hats and corsets who are actually encouraged to yell out the traditional “Call Backs” and throw the usual props (rubber gloves, cards and balloons) is a one-of-a-kind opportunity. This show is not a black-tie event (unless that black tie is a part of a costume!) and if you can’t help but sing along or ask Dr. Everett Scott about his favorite TV shows in the middle of a monologue, you won’t be thrown out.

Sure, midnight showings of “Rocky” are priceless, but how often does Frank snark back?  For example, the opening lyric of “Don’t Dream It, Be It” has Frank intoning, “Whatever happened to Fay Wray?” (referring to the “Scream Queen” of classic horror films), prompting the audience to respond, “She’s dead!” McGarth paused, as though at a loss for words as the live band stayed stuck on the melody. After a moment of flustered consternation, McGarth responded with a popped hip and a sassy, “Then she’s only a little colder than you, bitch.”

Though the cost of admission can get a little steep for good seats and the mileage from here to San Diego might be less than desirable, fans of “Rocky” should make this show a priority. “Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show” closes Nov. 6 and a well-done “Time Warp” won’t save you if you miss out.

Rating: 5 out of 5