No longer just a “shadow performance” in front of a midnight movie screen, “The Rocky Horror Show,” in its original, prefilm form, is being produced Review in the Wharton Center’s spacious Pasant Theater by the teddy-dressed thespians of Michigan State University.
While the play is virtually impossible to perform without referencing the iconic film version from 1975, the MSU Theatre Department and director Tommy Gomez dare to distinguish their debut with moderate success.
“The Rocky Horror Show” is a sexually charged parody of campy, 1950s sci-fi horror films with a blend of early rock ‘n’ roll music. Gomez attempts to prime and pump the energy by placing the band onstage, giving the cast a multi-leveled set with spinning lips to dance and writhe on, and a display screen to project live video. The audience is even offered a prop bag to purchase, which is filled with goodies, such as squirt guns and rice, to sprinkle and saturate the stage, all while shouting “asshole!” and “slut!” between the scripted dialogue of the actors.
All of these elements make MSU’s “Rocky” visually engaging and interactive, but they don’t make up for poor sound design, a sometimes off-beat band and a Frank ‘N’ Furter who lacks the necessary charisma.
Frank ‘N’ Furter (Rusty Broughton) is a sweet transvestite alien from the planet “Tran Sexual” in the galaxy of “Transylvania.” Having abandoned his original mission in favor of having sex with earthlings, he eventually sets fellow aliens Riff-Raff (Matthew Kaufmann) and Magenta (Michelle Meredith) against him; and they kill him and blast themselves back to their home planet. But not before sullying the souls of lost couple Brad Majors (Sebastian Gerstner) and Janet Weiss (Jennifer Shafer), who discover their hidden passions with Frank ‘N’ Furter and his sculpted creation, Rocky (Curran Jacobs). Mix that all up with sharply choreographed dancing and simulated sex and you have the potential for truly risqué theater in the heart of East Lansing.
Broughton thankfully does not attempt to be Tim Curry in booming voice or cocky stride. Instead, he brings an almost meek sil liness to the role, which is sometimes funny but hardly characteristic of the hedonistic creature he is playing.
Kaufmann falls into the opposite problem by over-playing his part, sapping any creepy qualities far too quickly.
Meredith, Shafer, Jacobs and Kellyn Uhl all bring honesty and zeal to their roles.
It’s a shame the sound design by Lucas Nunn keeps the music of the band and the actors from filling even half of the auditorium. It’s hard to know if the band members, directed by Jeff English, can hear themselves, as they stumble through their jam sessions before each act.
For “Rocky” virgins, it may be difficult to tell whether or not you see a poor performance. But for experienced viewers, MSU’s “Rocky” might disappoint.
‘Rocky Horror Show’
Music and Lyrics by Richard O’Brian Through Oct. 4 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
& Thursday 8 p.m. Friday & Saturday 2 p.m. Sunday Pasant
Thetare, Wharton Center $15-$20 1 (800) WHARTON www.whartoncenter.com