Few musicals have enjoyed the success of The Rocky Horror Show. Its 1973 West End World Premiere was followed by a ’74 Los Angeles run at the Roxy, a ’75 Broadway premiere, and subsequent productions throughout the world leading to what may well be a record number of cast recordings—a grand total of twenty-eight, plus the movie soundtrack. Audience participation at live productions and midnight movie screenings has become legendary, with Rocky fans showing up in costume, throwing food, toilet paper, and confetti on the stage at appropriate moments, and shouting out punch lines in unison.

Still, despite its international fame, this reviewer had managed until this month never to have seen The Rocky Horror Show. That major omission has now been rectified by the vibrant new troupe of theater-loving actors, directors, and designers known as Coeurage Theatre Company.

Though Rocky Horror is probably too “out there” to ever make it on my list of favorite musicals, it’s hard to imagine a more exciting, better performed intimate staging than the one put on by Coeurage, under the highly imaginative direction of Ric Perez-Selsky, who like many Coeurage artists is a graduate of Cal State Fullerton’s highly esteemed Department Of Theatre And Dance.

A pair of 1950s movie usherettes (Aimee Karlin and Nicole Monet) open the Horror Show with “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” whose references to ‘50s sci-fi/horror classics like The Day The Earth Stood Still, It Came From Outer Space, and Forbidden Planet hint at what’s to come, though it’s unlikely that any 1950s movie ever featured a bisexual mad scientist self-described as “just a sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania.”

We’re then introduced to nerdy Brad Majors (Jesse Bradley) and his virginal girlfriend Janet Weiss (Julianne Donelle), on their way to visit Dr. Everett Scott (Lawrence Peters), their former science tutor and Rocky Horror’s ubiquitous narrator. A flat tire interrupts Brad and Janet’s rain-dampened ride, and they soon find themselves at the door of an old castle in search of a telephone.

Welcoming them to “the Frankenstein place” are handyman Riff Raff (Jeremy Lelliott), his sister Magenta (Monet), and groupie Columbia (Karlin), who teach the hapless couple to dance the “Time Warp.” (“It’s just a jump to the left and then a step to the right. With your hands on your hips, you bring your knees in tight. But it’s the pelvic thrust that really drives you insane.”) This is only a prelude, however, to the grand entrance of the real Rocky Horror star, “Sweet Transvestite” Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter (Gregory Nabours).

With Brad and Janet stripped down to their undies, it’s clear that Frank ‘N’ Furter has some nasty shenanigans in mind, but first he introduces them to his prized creation, a hunky specimen named Rocky Horror (Karnell Matthews), whom Frank ‘N’ Furter has brought to life in the tradition of of his sort-of namesake Dr. Frankenstein.

From then on, it’s a bit hard to describe, or even for that matter to follow Rocky Horror’s bizarro plot, though it does involve scenes of hetero and homo sex, the introduction of two more characters—Eddie (Joe Calarco) and Dr. Scott (Gedaly Guberek)—and a trio of gender-bending Phantoms (Graham Kurtz, Sara Perry, and Deven Simonson) who not only sing and dance but also serve as parts of the set design.

As they did with the very different Under Milk Wood, the young artists of Coeurage prove themselves masters at producing quality theater on a budget, with a “Pay What You Can” policy for all productions.

In the iconic role of Frank ‘N’ Furter, Nabours (better known as one of L.A.’s most talented young music directors), proves himself a showman extraordinaire, uninhibitedly milking the sweet transsexual’s every flamboyant moment, and woe befall the innocent girl … or boy who crosses Frank ‘N’ Furter’s path.

The All-American sweethearts better known as Brad and Janet are brought to boy-and-girl-next-door life by a pair of very talented CSUF grads. Bradley, who won an L.A. Weekly Theatre Award for his performance in the ensemble of Altar Boyz, makes for a magnetic, winning Brad, with Donelle matching him for cuteness and sex appeal.

Lelliott, who has won StageSceneLA kudos for roles as diverse as Hamlet and Into The Woods’ Jack, once again proves his versatility as a very quirky Riff Raff, belting out “Time Warp” with the best of them. Karlin and Monet electrify the stage as Columbia and Magenta, and Calarco and Guberek are standouts as Eddie and Dr. Scott, each of whom gets his very own big splashy production number.

Matthews has great fun as the titular Rocky, showing off his comedic and muscular gifts in a pair of gold lamé boxer’s shorts. CSUF faculty member Peters joins many of his former students in a delicious turn as our Narrator. Kurtz, Perry, and Simonson do sensational quadruple duty as the Phantoms—singing, dancing, emoting, and doubling as both furniture and motor vehicles.

Music director Brian Morales leads the rocking three-piece band on piano, with Brian Cannady on drums and David Lee on guitar. Tiffany Adeline Cole has choreographed several imaginative, energetic dance numbers, most particularly “Time Warp,” executed to perfection by the multitalented ensemble. Nabours scores extra points as vocal director. Casey Holm’s lighting design (with Michelle Stann as lighting consultant), Natalie O’Brien’s costume design, and Jessi Rivera’s makeup/hair design work together to make Rocky Horror magic on a matchbook-sized black box stage, mostly bare except for a funky red-lips sofa. Emily Page is stage manager. Darcy Peters is prop crew.

A huge audience hit, The Rocky Horror Show further enhances Coeurage Theatre Company’s growing reputation as one of L.A.’s newest and best.

The Space Theatre, 665 N. Heliotrope Dr., Los Angeles.
–Steven Stanley
November 14, 2010

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