The original Rocky Horror Show stage production debuted in 1973 and combined musical theater with comedy, horror, and science fiction. It was immortalized by the the motion picture The Rocky Horror Picture Show came out two years later.
Having seen the original film version before—which starred Tim Curry and Susan Sarandon—I can now say I much prefer the particularly cinematic stage version brought to Indianapolis by the locally-based production/direction team of Zach & Zack (Zach Rosing and Zack Neiditch) opening Friday at the Athenaeum.
While they took a brief hiatus last year, this is the same team behind the Rocky Horror stage production that has been voted Best Stage Production in our annual Best of Indy readers poll, several years in a row. Just this week, Zach and Zack won the award for their 2018 production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
It's easy to see why this production of Rocky Horror is a fan favorite. From the moment Columbia (Alexandria Warfield) begins singing the opening number “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” the montage of 50s B science-fiction movies projected on the screen behind her, this production seamlessly, and innovatively, incorporates cinematic effects and live performance.
Instead of having the narrator sit on stage, narrating the story of the young newlyweds Brad and Janet, we see the image of the narrator (Adam O. Crowe channeling his inner Orson Welles) projected up on a secondary screen to the side of the stage.
And when Brad (Adam Tran) and Janet (Andrea Heiden) discover a castle in the rain after their car breaks down, you see them disappear from the stage and become screen images themselves.
This is not to say that there are no sets on stage. Once we meet Frank ‘N Furter (Dave Ruark), the alien transvestite mad scientist, we see elaborate sets where Frank and his crew get to perform their musical numbers, the most iconic being “Sweet Transvestite” before we are introduced to muscle man “Rocky,” created ex nihilo by Frank 'N Furter.
During what is perhaps the most outre sequence of the entire film, when Frank dresses as Brad to seduce Janet—and then dresses as Janet to seduce Brad—we see only their silhouettes on a screen.
While certain elements of Rocky Horror were originally ahead of its time, such as the suggestion that none of us are as binary when it comes to sexual attraction as we might think, certain terminologies have become dated. In the Rocky Horror program, Zach & Zack address this saying:
"Okay, so let’s talk real quick. This production features the famous song “Sweet Transvestite,” which includes the terms “transvestite” and “transsexual.” These terms were considered more acceptable in 1973 before the concept of transgender was being publicly discussed, much less publicly accepted."
On preview night, all the performances went off without a hitch. Dave Ruark gave a particularly committed performance as Frank ‘N Furter. And the Athenaeum stage, with all of its rich history, seemed like the perfect venue for his mad scientist shenanigans.
The most important thing to say about this production is that it did what any Rocky Horror production must do. That is, it incited audience participation. Zach & Zack’s did this particularly well. When Janet is lamenting her sorry predicament, saying “If only we hadn’t broken down,” someone from the audience shouted at her, “But you did.”
And of course, when the cast members broke out into the “The Time Warp", audience members got off their chairs and danced.
It's a production that should attract a lot of new fans, and appeal to those of us who remember the original. A good many in the audience, judging from appearances, looked like they were old enough to have been in the audience during the time when Rocky Horror first began lighting up stages—and screens—all across America.