Urban Theatre Group Produces A Very Sexy Rocky HorrorJune 26, 2009 19 comments Print Article
Contrary to popular belief, Theatre in Jacksonville has always been a fairly interesting proposition, with a solid bedrock of fairly mediocre offerings being wildly supported by public funding and subscription that is nominally balanced out by one or another group of interesting and adventurous theatre people willing to produce independent and substantially superior work on shoestring budgets and nearly no audiences whatsoever. In the late 70s through late 80s, the production of interesting theatre was primarily directed by one of the living legends of the Jacksonville theater scene, a terrible hobgoblin of such concentrated evil that his very name is enough to send shivers down the spines of whatever survivors of his tyrannical rule might be within earshot (not a common occurrence since his name seems to be the theatrical equivalent of Lord Voldemort (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voldemort) . We are speaking of course, of Andrew Arnold (http://www.tuckborough.net/sauron.html), one of the most talented and daring theatre directors ever to draw a curtain in the state of Florida. His theatre was in the heart of Five Points in the Five Points Theatre building, and it was called the River City Playhouse.
Five Points rediscovers talent and fun as it struggles back towards cultural relevance
Since this is a debut of our theatre review section, a few notes on independent theatre.
Contrary to popular belief, Theatre in Jacksonville has always been a fairly interesting proposition, with a solid bedrock of fairly mediocre offerings being wildly supported by public funding and subscription that is nominally balanced out by one or another group of interesting and adventurous theatre people willing to produce independent and substantially superior work on shoestring budgets and nearly no audiences whatsoever.
In the late 70s through late 80s, the production of interesting theatre was primarily directed by one of the living legends of the jacksonville theater scene, a terrible hobgoblin of such concentrated evil that his very name is enough to send shivers down the spines of whatever survivors of his tyrannical rule might be within earshot (not a common occurrence since his name seems to be the theatrical equivelant of Lord Voldemort ). We are speaking of course, of Andrew Arnold, one of the most talented and daring theatre directors ever to draw a curtain in the state of Florida. His theatre was in the heart of Five Points in the Five Points Theatre building, and it was called the River City Playhouse.
After producing perhaps a hundred shows, from original sex romps to showstoppers like "Evita" and one of the most clever productions of "Les Liasons Dangereaux" of all time, the Andrew Arnold era came to an unexpected end in 1991 when two small but plucky hobbits secretly crept into the crevices of Mount Doom and threw Arnold's ring into its volcanic fires.
The baton passed to a vibrant and exciting young group of performers under the umbrella company of Jacksonville Actor's Theatre, a fairly intellectual performance group who managed to balance out the negatives of intelligent theatre by having enough talent to make it seem plausible, and ---incredibly enough---enjoyable to audiences. Under the leadership of landmass in exile, Dr. Lee Beeger, the group produced works by Dario Fo and other quixotic writers popular at the time, and sponsored the poignant playwriting talents of Valerie Anthony among others. Perhaps the most searing theater to be performed on any Jacksonville Stage occurred during the memorable performances of Anthony and a very young Seth Langner during readings of her 'Land of the Double Wides"
JAT came to an untimely (and ultimately disingenuous) end in the early 90s when FCCJ very quietly purchased the Grand Boulevard Mall where the group was housed and quietly let Dr. Beeger know that the college would not be renewing the donation of space to the theatre group which had made the performance space possible.
By weird happenstance, the cancellation of the space donation happened almost at the same time as the final legendary performance of Jean Genet's "The Maids" and the momentary exposure of Valerie Anthony's apparently explosive breasts during one of the scenes.
What followed has led to nearly a decade and a half of sordid recriminations, vapid self censorship and general disgust with Jacksonville on the part of the theatre community.
Ann Hyman, the daily papers venerable arts writer, reported the exposed boob almost as an interesting afternote in her review---and what followed was a marketing bonanza leading to packed houses as the hitherto unheard of play was angrily and duly picketed by the local church groups and police officers were dispatched to arrest Valerie if she exposed her breasts again during the performance.
This writer was in the audiences those final nights and the sense of suspense was exciting and palpable as we waited for the inevitable showstopping handcuffs and potential wrestling match between uniformed officer and the first lady of Jacksonville's Theatre. It was without a doubt the most valid and gripping theatre ever produced in Jacksonville.
Sadly, no arrests occurred, but contrary to how one might assume it would turn out...the aftermath was simply catastrophic.
Dr. Beeger, deciding it best not to mention that the theatre was losing its space because of the buyout on the part of the college, instead let it be known publicly that the fertile little group was being hounded out of business by the cruel baptist overlords who had organized the protests. It was all balderdash of course, but the story stuck and became part of the Jacksonville canon. Afterwards it simply became a bedrock belief that all edgy theatre would be 'shut down' by 'the baptists'. Poppycock.
Michael Emerson with fellow JAT actor, Jimmy Aquino, before his role on "Lost".
Which pretty much left only the Musical Theatre Community, apparently content to produce musical versions of the Christmas Carol and Showboat until the cows eventually reclaim all the lands west of downtown.
The rest of the 90s were one long dry spell in theatre.
One extremely welcome development over the past few years has been an increased demand for a return to performances more risk taking than say-----Oklahoma! or endless reruns of Steel Magnolias and Children's Theatre. Groups like Theatre with Byte, Nokturnal Escape, Orpheus Theatre Company, and even Ian Mairs' studio theatre have been able to consistently draw audiences even with nonexistent marketing budgets and the simultaneous cancellation of theatre reviews by every publication except EU.
Normally one is pleased as punch to find anything more challenging than A Shayna Madel, almost to the point where merely offering the performance has been as important as whether or not it was actually well done or even enjoyable.
Perhaps that long dry spell is over.
Last night, we were privileged to witness a sterling production of edgy (for Jacksonville) theatre in the form of The Rocky Horror Show.
With a certain amount of satsifying irony we were thrilled to find it at one of the original crime scenes of real theatre in Jacksonville, and also the location of the last live performance of the cult classic more than 20 years ago---the Five Points Theatre Building.
Joey Chancey and Vanessa Harper, the team behind Chancey Productions (www.chanceyproductions.com) have created a real win and a thoroughly enjoyable piece of theatre in their version of Rocky Horror Show. The performance is raw, fresh and terribly exciting----very updated and yet totally in character with the original classic film.
Lets begin with the technical aspects of the show.
This production of Rocky is primarily a dance performance, and the choreography is nothing short of awesome. Every scene is a tightly constructed, perfectly orchestrated character interp piece. The dance moves pay a great amount of homage to the recent flesh and flash choreography of Cabaret and perhaps to the work of Rob Marshall in the reworked 1998 Chicago, but they are done with a perfect eye to keeping the sci fi spirit and hokey naivete of the principals firmly in mind.
Incredibly, the show was choreographed by the fellow in the gold speedos and body glitter all over his bronze, muscled physique, Ian Campayno---who also plays Rocky. His work is so solid and so exciting, both from an artistic and a visceral point of view, that this performance could have been legitimately billed as a dance rather than theatre production. The dance crew did a fantastic job executing his work and create most of the set with their bodies, from the wedding chapel and arch in the opening scene to the car with the fateful flat tire which bring Brad and Janet to Frankenfurter's Lair.
His ensemble interpretation The Time Warp is breathtaking. It is beautiful, fun and downright sexy. The comic clunkiness of the original film work is almost forgotten in Campayno's version of "its just a step to the right!..."
The staging is more along the lines of a rock show, with most of the action taking place on various stairwells and an extended runway that juts into the seating area, giving the performance the feel of a stones concert or a fashion opening by Donatella Versace.
The symphony is placed behind plexiglass riot gear screens on the top level of the staging and are visible at all times during the performance, enhancing the concert feeling. Joey Chancey serves as musical director, and while he does not stray too far from the original scores, his softer jazz and piano sensibilities come through in each of the performances, including a few numbers that did not appear in the film. The musical performances were gorgeous and perfectly executed all the way throughout and whoever took care of the sound for the show certainly knew what the hell they were doing, as there were no noticeable glitches and the balance between actors and band was exactly maintained throughout the performance. Plus, it added something to have Joey beaming a fairly brilliant smile all the way through the evening although it wouldnt be apparent that he was also the musical director from behind his piano.
The costumes were a joy. Updated by Lee Hamby with clear inspiration from Cabaret rather than Lestat, there was nevertheless an abundance of fishnet on all the performers. The dancers have tight (very short) shorts which leave only intended uses to the imagination and off the shoulder fishnet sleeves and are in all black. Frankenfurter's outfit is a departure from the Tim Curry lace and lingerie outfit, opting instead for a cartoonish red vinyl bustierre cut across the midriff. Frankenfurter appears to have been rendered by Akiyama Kazuhito for an installment of Atom Boy. The update is refreshing and boldly redefines this productions portrayal of the famous character.
But the final number is where Lee's retro sleek sensiblities really shine. Tricking out the principals in vinyl boots of differing colors with matching feather boas was not only vivid from a color perspective but a little kinky and quite carnal. The costumes gave the last three numbers a glam but naive feel that was ultimately more erotic and exciting than the original....truly a case where costuming changes the outcome of the performance.
Overall the sheer staging and technical side of the production were very exciting. A little raw perhaps, which is perhaps intentional, but the standout elements of this production were the costuming and choreography, which were perfectly highlighted, so whatever polish might have been applied to the staging and lighting would have been a moot point anyways.
Which brings us to the performances.
David Sacks as the narrator is an inspiration. Nice deep voice and mischievious eyes and a deep sense of jaded amusement give his character an approachability that ties the audience into the performance in a way which would not have been possible without him. He replaces Charles Gray's cold war era credulity with a sort of mocking hipster everyman note that mocks just enough to connect with the audience without making the performance seem banal.
Delone Adkison as Frankenfurter was a huge but successful stretch from the Tim Curry Original.
Adkison plays the mad alien scientist not so much as a trickstering seduction artist, but rather a fairly singleminded fading drag queen, whose advancing waistline and heft have left her to somewhat desperate measures. Adkison's Frankenfurter is like the Chi Chi LaRue of arch villains. Sheer intimidating physicality with the potential for raunchy porn running in the background. The mind fairly boggles with his glitter based makeup and shiny costuming. He trades the corrupt lasciviousness of Curry's performance with a brassy operatic presence that manages to simply own the stage whenever he is present. Just a delight to watch.
And ye gods his voice. During one of the final numbers, "Don't dream it, be it" several spontaneous bursts of applause and wolfwhistles broke out during his performance. Adkison could clearly be heard during a kickoff if he felt like it, and his voice was the central element of his character.
There is no shortage of vocal talent however: Juan Unzueta and Marissa Hines were fairly showstopping voices in their own right as Riff Raff and Majenta respectively. They dropped the creepy and demented elements of the original characters in favor of more earthy and wanton portrayals. Hines in particular used her lovely voice and moments in the spotlight to cast a bit of a spell over the audience.
Ian Campayno was the perfect choice for Rocky, with his greek god physique and compellingly handsome face, he was radiant (literally considering the glitter) every moment that he was on stage. His voice was quite adequate, and his dance skills were outstanding.
Michelle Barry as a perky and hip Columbia was show stealingly fun. By the time of the last numbers she has a total moment in the sun alone on stage as she post orgasmically improvs lines and generally owns the room for a few minutes of deliciously playful basking.
One final notice has to be given to the frequent bouts of visible naughtiness on the part of Sara Ruzicka in her portrayal of Janet Weiss. She plays Janet with a perfect blend of kitschy 50s style naivete that gives way to an Anna Nicole Smith style of bad girl that not only updated the character but also created space for some very bawdy moments and laughter from the audience.
Counterpointing all of the very professional character work being done onstage were several standout dance performances by the dance ensemble. Of particular note, Alex Nordin, Ira Harris and Kara Barger contributed substantially to the sexy, gorgeous, vibrant choreography of the show and maintained the feeling and attention of the audience. The contribution of their dance performances to this show simply cannot be overstated.
Its always a dicey proposition to go to a show like Rocky. Ive always felt like it was something akin to going to see an Elvis impersonator or a beatles tribute band. However, this was not the case with Joey Chancey's production. With the heavy use of dance and choreography, and the inventive character work, there were all kinds of pleasant surprises, making this 'Rocky' a pretty original production. After 10 minutes you just chunk your video replays of the film and get caught up fairly viscerally in this wonderful and lascivious production.
If your brave enough for the subject matter, then we would definitely recommend this performance, totally independent of your opinions of the original film. With this cast, this score, and these performances, this "Rocky" is a horse of a different color.
For the love of God, go see this show.