Opening weekend of the Rocky Horror Show at the Zach Theater more than delivers on thrills, chills and surprises. Let there be lips!
By Cy White, Photos by Suzanne Cordeiro
Get your water guns, wax lips and latex gloves ready. That’s right. The Rocky Horror Show is at the Zach Theater, and it’s truly an experience like no other. Veterans of the show will remember what it feels like. That moment when the lights dim, the inky blackness of the theater, then a booming voice proclaiming, “Then God said, ‘Let there be lips!'” Suddenly, as if from the ever-expansive nothingness of outer space, blood-red lips, quirked in a suggestive grin, appear. Welcome to the “late-night double-feature picture show.”
From start to finish, all the old gags and interactive props were in full effect. The nostalgia of the show for those who’ve experienced Rocky Horror for themselves is instantaneous. Whether you were there at some of the first gritty showings in late-night nickelodeons in New York, or you were fortunate enough to see the show in its later reincarnations. Walking into the Zach Theater, finding your seat, quivering with antici…You already know where I’m going with this. Let me tell you, the wait was well worth it.
They Have the Range!
It’s no surprise that the absolute highlight of the show as Frank-N-Furter, but more on that later. More than any character, the true star of Rocky Horror were the vocals. Every single person who set foot on that stage had a voice truly touched by something holy. Daisy Wright’s crystalline soprano highlighted the wide-eyed innocence of Janet Weiss, while also giving her the depth of emotion necessary to showcase her vulnerability, curiosity and ultimate blossoming. Wright most definitely did Susan Sarandon proud. (And dare I say out-sang the original Janet?) Jordan Barron as Brad Majors proved a suitable anchor to Wright’s high-flying soprano.
Jill Blackwood’s Magenta was pure magic. As the first singing voice of the show, she had a tough task: Get the audience hooked, fast. She did that and more, coming in with some clutch baritone sax during Eddie’s (played by Chris Cornwell, who pulled triple duty as Dr. Scott and the show’s guitarist) iconic “Rock and Roll” solo. Hallie Walker as former-Frank-N-Furter-love-interest-turned-Eddie-significant-other Columbia was pure glitter. She had all the personality of a pixie and the energy to match. She certainly proved a favorite for some of the younger members of the audience.
But if we’re talking voices, let’s talk about the power of Cameron Mitchell Bell’s Riff Raff. This young man has a voice that could blow out your speakers. And you’d gladly thank him for the damage! The moment he opened his mouth it was like a sonic boom went off in the theater. Whoops and hollers and hallelujahs abound when he sang the “Time Warp” reprise after intermission. Each song Bell featured in carried a little extra weight on the strength of his gospel-tinged vocal.
Sweet Transvestite from Transsexual Transylvania
Though, if we’re gonna go there, we have to give reverence to the glory, the power and the passion that is Cecil Washington Jr as the icon, the legend: Frank-N-Furter. Washington Jr’s stint as the charismatic mad-science nymphomaniac genius was truly inspired. No one had a greater weight on his shoulders than this young man. Frank-N-Furter’s legend runs deep, rivalled only by his fans’ devotion. Standing in the shadow of the mythos of Tim Curry’s performance is a heavy load to bear. But Washington Jr more than filled Curry’s leather boots. His flair for the dramatic was tempered by an emotional, poignant and ironically grounded performance. He managed to find that delicate balance between camp and grit.
All of this, of course, is anchored by that. Damn. Voice! Talk about amens and hallelujahs. Washington Jr had the audience in the palm of his hand like a preacher to his congregation. The liberties musical director Allen Robertson took to modernize the play for a new generation worked in Washington Jr’s favor. Giving us Lady Gaga and Beyonce, Rihanna-inspired remixes. However, nothing will match the profundity of Frank-N-Furter’s show-stopping numbers in the second half.
“Don’t Dream It, Be It” was a shaky sigh in the bombast of everything before it. An inhale of warm air, the sun shining on your face. On the exhale, you felt your heart breaking, if only because the sentiment was so strong. “I’m Going Home,” an absolute master class in vocal control, improvisation and emotional storytelling. So much heart and soul went into Washington Jr’s performance, you felt the desperation, the utter need to be loved in Frank-N-Furter. With the addition of the show-stopping final moments of classic “And I am Telling You,” Washington Jr gave the audience all the drama and soul-searing vocal elegance of Jennifer Holiday and Jennifer Hudson. Earning him a standing ovation before the show even reached its true conclusion.
When the curtain fell for the first time, Blackwood and Bell returning to give us the final refrain, the audience was ready to swing from the rafters. At curtain call, the last performance of the “Time Warp” had everyone on their feet. The final notes of the play reverberated off the theater walls; then the roar of over a hundred ardent Rocky Horror fans shook the foundations.
If you were in the audience for opening weekend of The Rocky Horror Show, you were in for something beyond your wildest imaginings. Yes, people are just now relearning how to be out again. There were some moments of hesitation when it came to the props and gags. But Rocky Horror veterans steered us all in the right direction. At the end of the night, no one was the same as when walked came in. In the end we all left the Zach Theater on a collective high, chanting in our souls, “Don’t dream it, be it.”
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is at the Zach Theater until May 1. Visit the Zach Theater website to get more information.