Was it a lifestyle choice? I just couldn’t make it.
After the 1975 film The Rocky Horror Picture Show (adaptation of the 1973 stage musical, The Rocky Horror Show, by Richard O’Brien) became a late night cult sensation in New York City in 1976, it swept the nation in the burgeoning midnight movie slot. The parody attracted a huge following of pre-punked out freaks, rockers and classic sci-fi nerds, all looking for a good time in a non-conventional way. With its satirical send-up of 50’s-style sci-fi flicks and its in your face hedonism expressing post flower-child sexuality and bold transvestite manifestation, the film developed an extensive participation culture. In Dallas, “Rocky Horror” seemed to take over the Highland Park Village movie theatre with fishnet and corset clad boys in scary wigs and lots of mascara lining up after 10pm around the block at the otherwise sedate, couture shopping center. Their friends donned attire of other show characters with great attention to detail. I recall driving by to watch ‘the show’ on the parking lot several times, after whatever stage play I was in closed and I had shed my costume and stage make-up for bar attire. I attended the screening once. I found all the ritualized participation distracting and childish, the show itself lacking in story depth or character arc. I preferred the throbbing disco beat at the sprawling gay dance hall The Old Plantation near downtown. In short, I just couldn’t embrace the lifestyle choice to join the “Rocky Horror” Alien Transvestite ‘scene’. Then, or now.
The North Texas region is really lucky that professional stage director Joel Ferrell made his lifestyle choice to live here and book most of his professional work in our region. With his talent and skills, he could move anywhere and find non-stop employment as a stage director. His production of Cabaret for the Dallas Theater Center several years back is one of the best productions I’ve seen mounted in the ever-awkward Wyly Theatre. I dreaded attending DTC’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Ferrell’s direction and revitalization of its musical numbers made it a perfectly engaging, madcap fluffy spectacle. I have seldom laughed as hard at a show. Casting several of the fearless comic actors who made “Joseph” a fresh delight, Chamblee Ferguson and Liz Mikel, Ferrell mounts on the Wyly stage a luscious, decadent, randy version of the sci-fi spoof The Rocky Horror Show. It’s sure to please die-hard fans and susceptible “virgins”, alike. Ferguson plays the lugubrious Riff Raff as if he’s gone through a personal time warp that slows him way, way down in a deliberate, ghoulish manner amidst the frenzied hysteria erupting around him. Very funny. Mikel bursts onto the stage as a mustachio-wearing butch dyke version of the character Eddie (who seems to function as a minor distraction from the shaky semblance of plot, with offstage demise by chainsaw) and then returns on a scooter, roaming the stage precariously in a navy business suit, hair severely swept back, as the character Dr. Scott. I understand the tradition of throwing toilet paper during the show grew out of Scott’s name being that of a popular brand? Again, I’m not sure what action this character drives, but Mikel is quite funny in the role. Strongest performance of the show come from the tireless ensemble of wandering, futuristic, apocalyptic-attired musicians that mix with dance captain Jeremy Allen Dumont’s “phantom” dancers: Chris McQueen, conductor and lead guitar; Daniel Garcia, electric bass; Cade Sadler, drums; Kwinton Gray, keyboards: Ben Bohorquez, saxophone. They kept the seventeen numbers and Epilogue ricocheting off the Wyly walls with joyous rock n’ roll abandon. I truly enjoyed them as individuals and as an ensemble. If its music were not absolutely buoyant, this show could indeed become a real drag, and I don’t mean ‘drag show’….
As if you don’t already know, comely lads clad in little more than fishnet stockings, corsets, gargantuan wigs and lots and lots of eye make-up clamber and gyrate about the multi-level set in garish stacked heels. In the still closeted1970’s, this seemed rather daring. Today, I find it a quaint yawner in its repetitiveness. I think I’ve aged better than the show has.
I’ll conclude by quoting from Director Joel Ferrell’s notes in the program, expressing his belief in the show’s lasting value: “And yet in all the farce and spoof and drag show-fun is a reminder: we are all utterly unique. And no one has the right to declare themselves more normal or important or better.” That seems like a worthy sentiment to help balance a world gone mad with violence, partisanship and xenophobia. I may not choose to join the “Fierce Alien Transvestite” lifestyle, but don’t let me stop you if you feel the call.
The Dallas Theater Center’s The Rocky Horror Show, directed and choreographed by Joel Ferrell, runs through October 19, 2014, at the Wyly Theatre in downtown Dallas.
TICKETS: www.dallastheatercenter.org 214-880-0202
Photos by Karen Almond provided by DTC staff