Saturday, January 29, 2022

"The Rocky Horror Show" by Theatre 55 at Mixed Blood Theatre

Since 2018, Theatre 55 has been producing shows with entire casts made up of actors age 55 or older, showcasing the talent of elder actors in our community (like the B Positive of #TCTheater). They also give novice actors the chance to work with and learn from more experienced theater artists, with a goal to "enrich the lives of elders as artists, audiences, and lifelong learners through theatre performance and education." They're returning to live in-person performance with the cult classic The Rocky Horror Show, and similar to Hair, their first production three years ago, populating this show with people who likely were around for and witnessed the original incarnation brings a new depth and meaning to it. But mostly, it's just a whole lot of fun. Everyone in the 15-person cast seemed to be having a blast, and the audience was right there in it with them. This show is such a fun and wacky expression of life and individuality, and this particular production is a great reminder that it's never too late for "don't dream it, be it." If you're one of those Rocky Horror fanatics (which, I admit, I am not), or if you just want to have a good time at the theater, check out this unique Rocky Horror through February 6 only (click here for details and to purchase tickets on a pay-what-you-can scale).

For the uninitiated, The Rocky Horror Show is inspired by science fiction and horror movies of the early to mid 20th Century (although it was a stage show first, it's mostly known as the 1975 movie thanks to the cult popularity of midnight showings, complete with audience participation). Through clean cut newly engaged couple Brad and Janet, we experience the world of Frank-N-Furter, a self-described "sweet transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania" (which, it turns out, is a planet) when their car is stranded near his mansion. It turns out to be a bit of a house of horrors, as Frank has created a creature named Rocky (a la Dr. Frankenstein and his monster), and sometimes people who show up at the house don't get to leave... alive. But Brad and Janet survive this wacky trip, although not unchanged as they become immersed in Frank's world.*

Lawrence Hutera as Frank 'N' Furter
(photo courtesy of Theatre 55)
Theatre 55 founder Richard Hitchler directs the production with just the right tone of camp, fun, and weirdness. And everyone in the cast totally leans into it. The story is framed by a narrator, well done by Beth Gillman in a smart pantsuit and red glasses (check the schedule for special guest appearances in this role). Jeff Goodson and Lori Constable are sweetly adorable as Brad and Janet, in contrast to Frank's deranged servants (masters?) Riff Raff and Magenta, an appropriately creepy Brian Driscoll and Deborah Schee. Other highlights include Annette Kurek as the lovesick Columbia, Scott Dutton as the beautiful creature Rocky who wants more, and Leif Jurgensen as failed experiment Eddie. But of course, the star of this show is Frank ‘N’ Furter, and 72-year-old Lawrence Hutera (the self-described "oldest man who's ever been cast as Frank ’N’ Furter") is absolutely commanding in the role. Confident and funny and a little scary, just totally owning this iconic role and making it his own.

The stage at Mixed Blood is mostly empty, the only set pieces a bright blue glittery curtain backdrop (note: actors enter and exit through the audience via the right aisle, in case you want to avoid or gravitate towards that). The cast performs a bit of physical theater to make themselves into doors or machinery or anything else needed in the world; imagination does the rest. There's some fun choreography by Ellen Keane that's not too over-the-top (of course the iconic "Time Warp," and some '50s doo-wop), and the costumes (designed by Alicia Vegell) are creatively reminiscent of the movie. But if you thought over 55 means less skin in Rocky Horror, you'd be wrong! And it's pretty great to see the body positivity in this cast of older actors who don't fit the Hollywood or Broadway or even regional theater mold of what men and women on stage should look like. They're all just who they are, owning it, and celebrating the beauty of their unique and individual body. Truly something to aspire to.

With Children's Theatre Company's resident music director Victor Zupanc at the helm, you know the music is going to be fantastic, and it is. He leads the four-piece onstage band and is almost as much fun to watch as the cast. The band and cast sound great on this familiar and beloved rock musical score, and will leave you singing the songs and wanting to listen to the soundtrack all weekend.

The best things about getting older (I'm not yet 55, but I'm not that far away, either) are that you care less about what people think about you, you're more confident in who you are, more comfortable in your skin, and you know how fast time goes by. All of that is evident in this production, where "doing the time warp" takes on a new meaning. These actors are being it, not dreaming it, at an age when society traditionally tells them it's over. I actually enjoyed this show more than some of the more professional and polished productions of Rocky Horror that I've seen because it has it feels more true to the raw, grungy, gritty, authentically weird spirit of the original. 

The Rocky Horror Show continues through February 6 at Mixed Blood Theatre in the West Bank neighborhood of Minneapolis. Audience participation in the form of throwing items and shouting specific phrases at specific times, a la the midnight movie screenings, is encouraged, but not required. And just remember, if you throw something, "people over 55 have to bend over and pick it up," so just be thoughtful about what you leave behind.