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Barre Players Theater
This event took place at midnight on the morning of Saturday, April 12, 2003.
I recently had the opportunity to see The Rocky Horror Show performed live on stage, an experience I highly recommend, as it is very different from seeing the film. A friend of mine and a member of the church's high-school-age youth group was playing Eddie in the production, so we planned a trip to take the group to one of the midnight showings at the Barre Players Theater in Barre, Massachusetts.
You may have heard of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The cult status of this particular film has become so great that many people may not even know that it began as a London stage musical. For the uninitiated (or "virgins," as you will be called once you actually attend), the story goes something like this. A couple of "straights," Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, become stranded in their car after a flat tire. They go to a nearby castle, hoping to use the telephone and are met with some strange people--the "leader" of which is a transvestite named Dr. Frank N. Furter. A lot of shenanigans go on from there like life-creation (in the form of the titular being "Rocky Horror") and lots and lots of sex. There was a disclaimer on the program that trumpeted "This production is suitable for mature audiences only!" (their exclamation point).
Oh, and it's a musical. Can't forget that. Lots and lots of singing, dancing, and "Transylvanian Elbow Sex" (don't ask) to the tune of songs with titles like "Hot Patootie," "Sweet Transvestite," and "Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me."
During all this, we are treated to a narration of sorts--to sort out the confusing bits, of which there are many (if you aren't expecting it). In summary, The Rocky Horror Show is a science-fiction, musical, sex parody of 1950s mad doctor movies (with lots of sex).
So, on with this show.
To begin with, the Barre Players Theater is not a large place. There is probably seating for less than 500 people. But even for a midnight showing (or perhaps because of a midnight showing) the place was almost full. Many people were dressed in their best goth attire, and some (relatively few) were dressed as their favorite characters. (The wet, rainy, 30+ degree weather did not stop one girl from arriving as Janet in simply a blond wig and white bra and half-slip--and it was immediately apparent that she was definitely feeling a chill).
The ticket price was $12.00 and also available for an additional $3.00 was an approved "Audience Participation Kit." I'm sure the purists are cringing at the thought, but one must respect the wishes of the theatre where this is taking place, and if they choose to not include food items or water, that's their prerogative. So, there was no water, rice, or toast, but bubbles stood in at the wedding and the standard toilet paper, newspaper, and such were enough to enhance the performance without endangering the actors or irreparably soiling the theatre floor.
Before the show began, the Narrator (John McGonigle) appeared and took us through the normal "exit doors" and such procedure with style and humor, making a typically dry effort part of the entertainment. The music began and two Usherettes (Cassie Tortorici and Michelle Ortiz-Saltmarsh) walked down the center aisle, singing "Science Fiction Double Feature" and waving their flashlights around provocatively.
We are then introduced to Brad (Dan Bourque) and Janet (Kaitlyn Ekstrom) at the wedding of Betty and Ralph Hapschatt (played by the Riff Raff and Magenta actors). Eventually we get to the castle, where things really start hopping. Riff Raff (Derek Sylvester, obviously having a lot of fun), Magenta (Kat Saari), and Columbia (the astonishing Kathleen Wilson, stealing all of her scenes and making the most of what is a relatively small role) introduce themselves and distract Brad and Janet while waiting for Frank (Charles Grigaitis, Jr.)--the real star of the show--to appear.
Along the way, we meet Frank's creation, Rocky (Eddie Zitka, chosen for his looks as well as his talent); Eddie (Philip Hardy-Lavoie whom you may have seen in the indie film Rutland USA), Columbia's boyfriend; and Dr. Scott (Bob Datz), former professor of Brad and Janet and "nemesis" of Dr. Furter.
The story is treated as a farce, with all sorts of extravagant costumes and behaviors going on. It was quite funny and the audience members shouting out responses to the actors' lines (this was encouraged) just made the experience more enjoyable.
There were, in fact, only a few downsides to the production. A few of the microphones kept fading in and out--so I barely heard Eddie's number at all--and Brad, unfortunately, was simply not a good singer. He showed a lot of heart and gets an A for effort, but my singer wife was grimacing throughout the show at his attempts to hit the right notes. Sorry, Dan Bourque, I enjoyed your performance fully, otherwise. He really has the innocent look needed for the proper Brad.
The standouts were Kaitlyn Ekstrom as Janet (her buxom sensuality was much more interesting than the scrawny Magenta, Kat Saari), Kathleen Wilson as Columbia (love that note!), and Derek Sylvester as Riff Raff. Sylvester was a riveting presence, not trying to copy previous performances but remaining familiar while making it his own. Unfortunately, Frank N. Furter was just the opposite. It was too obvious that he had studied Tim Curry (and perhaps Tom Hewitt in the Broadway revival) that I had difficulty seeing it as anything but a copy, albeit an excellent one.
The Narrator, John McGonigle, was particularly good in his role, especially the way he fielded the audience comments, breaking from the script to return with sarcasms of his own. McGonigle is more good natured than Charles Gray in the film, and so not as much an object of ridicule. The audience really took to him, and he got the second-greatest applause (after Frank). I really wanted to like Eddie, but his stage time was not long enough for me to really get a feel for how he was doing. His mike didn't seem to be working properly, so I wasn't able to hear his one song. He seemed uncomfortable on stage, as well.
After the curtain call, the cast came down and performed the Time Warp with us and that was great fun. All in all, it was an amazing experience, and totally different that anything I'd experienced in that realm. I must commend the director, Jeremy Woloski, for seeing his vision through; the choreographer, Ali Rei, for making old dances seem new again; and the band--Ginger Osbourne, Shawn LePoer, Charlie Pierson, Jr., Dave Twiss, Colin Johnson, and Stephen Williams--for doing such a great job with Richard O'Brien's eminently singable tunes.
It's obvious the cast and crew put a lot of work into this production of The Rocky Horror Show (not least by the many names repeated in the program) and it showed. I would highly recommend attempting to see a local community theatre perform The Rocky Horror Show, if you can. The intimate venue is one that lends itself to a higher level of comfort and a feeling of community, making the musical more of a group event than a single person's experience.
If you live in the central Massachusetts area, check the Barre Player out on the Web at http://barreplayers.homestead.com, and, wherever you live, support your local community theatre. Instead of seeing that latest Hollywood blockbuster, go see a play. They will appreciate your being there as much as you appreciate the show itself.
© 2003 by Craig Clarke