What would the Halloween season be without the camp classic Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show, the science fiction/horror movie spoof that has become so iconic, it now includes its creator’s name in its official title?

 SoCal Rocky fans can now get their annual Horror Show fix at Santa Ana’s Theatre Out, where director David C. Carnevale and a tiptop cast have put together a snappy intimate staging of the cult musical smash.

Fans of more traditional Broadway classics like Oklahoma!, West Side Story, Company, Chicago, or even Mame may gripe that The Rocky Horror Show features only the barest hint of a storyline and characters who could hardly be more cardboard: a transvestite villain, an all-American couple who become his sex partners, a pair of incestuous lovers, and a “creature” about as similar to Frankenstein’s monster as young Arnold Schwarzenegger was to … well, to Frankenstein’s monster. On the other hand, one can hardly carp about Rocky Horror’s bunch of oh-so catchy songs and at least one dance sequence which has become a classic in its own right. (“Time Warp,” if you haven’t already guessed.)

 Though The Rocky Horror Show is too “out there” to ever make it on my list of favorite shows, having now experienced it three Halloweens in a row, I must acknowledge its quirky, kooky appeal, particularly when directed and performed with the imagination and flair Carnevale and company bring to the project.

Narrated with deadly gravitas (and a wink) by Brandon Kasper, The Rocky Horror Show opens with a 1950s movie usherette (Alissa Sanchez) belting out “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 (Jake Saenz) and his virginal girlfriend Janet Weiss (Andrea Dennison-Laufer), on their way to visit Dr. Everett Scott, their former science tutor. 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 (JT Corzine), his magenta-haired sister Magenta (Sanchez again), and tap-dancing groupie Columbia (Nicki Peek), 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 (Andrew Villarreal).

 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 (Rob Webb), 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 and Dr. Scott (both played by Ryan Young)—and a sextet of gender-bending Phantoms (Fermin Bello, LeAnn DeLano, Megan Endicott, Chelsea Feller, Jared Ryan Kaitz, and Frank Rodriguez) who not only sing and dance but at one point join together to provide Brad and Janet with transportation on their rainy ride to visit Dr. Scott.

 As one of the most movie goddess-glamorous Frank ‘N’ Furters ever, Villarreal plays the iconic role with absolute abandon, long slinky fishnetted legs, frequent disregard for Standard American English pronunciation (make that “pro-nooncy-ahsee-own”), an inventive way with the adlib, and one big Broadway belt of a voice.

With his horn-rimmed glasses and newly darkened hair, UCI senior Saenz has the right Clark Kent good looks to make Brad a combination boy-next-door nerd slash matinee idol (who just happens to be a comedic whiz and has terrific pipes to match).

 And speaking of pipes, is there anyone in the OC who can top Dennison-Laufer’s sensational way with those high notes, Theatre Out’s resident leading lady playing Janet with precisely the right blend of prettiness, perkiness, and pizzazz.

Sanchez is terrific too as both Usherette and Magnenta, with props due her own set of pipes; platinum blond fauxhawked Corzine makes for a campy, creepy, kooky Riff Raff; and Peek’s curvaceous Columbia is not only saucy and sexy, she tap-dances up a storm (as she did in last summer’s Cabaret).

 Kasper makes the deadpan most of his every moment as our Narrator, Young has a field day playing both Eddie and Dr. Scott, and as for Phantoms Bello, DeLano, Endicott, Feller, Kaitz, and Rodriguez, with their freak-punk makeup and triple-threat talents, they couldn’t do better at setting this Horror Show’s quirky, campy mood.

Finally, in only his second theatrical outing, recent high school grad Webb makes for about as dreamy a Rocky Horror as you could wish for, with his suntanned blond surfer-boy-next-door looks, to-die-for physique, and natural stage presence and charm.

 Director Carnevale and team have done a bang-up job at making this Rocky Horror Show an ideal fit for Orange County’s LGBT theater, making ingenious use of the Empire Theatre’s particularly wide stage, aided and abetted by choreographic whiz Sanchez, whose “Time Warp” is every bit the showstopper it’s cracked up to be. Musical director Stephen Hulsey coaxes topnotch vocals and harmonies from his cast, who perform to prerecorded tracks without need of amplification.

Not surprisingly the design star of the night is costumer Carnevale, who outfits the cast with imagination and campy panache. Newly installed LED lights make this Rocky Horror the most spectacularly lit (by lighting designer Joy Bice) Theatre Out production so far. Joey Baital’s red velvet-curtained multilevel set completes the design package with flair.

 For maximum audience participation, a handy audience participation guide is included in every program, though “audience members are asked not to throw objects, including rice, toilet paper and toast at the stage.” And when was the last time you needed to be reminded of that?

The answer is probably at a previous Rocky Horror Show, the latest incarnation of which makes for as Frank-‘N’-Furtastic a Horror Show as any fan could ask for.

Theatre Out, The Empire Theatre, 202 N. Broadway, Santa Ana.

–Steven Stanley
November 3, 2012
Photos: Stephen Rack



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