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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Rocky Horror Show - Underscore Theatre (GUEST THEATRICAL REVIEWER ELIZABETH SCHMESKI)

I appreciate theatre experiences in unexpected spaces. Especially those that allow me to drink to my heart’s content. And that feature ferocious talent, audience participation and glowsticks. All of these - and more - were satisfied at Underscore Theatre’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Under the brazen direction of Alex Higgins-Houser, Rocky Horror explodes from the catwalk of O’Malley’s Liquor Kitchen, and although there will remain only one performance by the time this review posts - Underscore Theatre’s live incarnation of the cult classic is not to be missed, and ought to be around for Chicago Halloween’s to come.

This cast puts out. Not only are they grinding - occasionally half-naked - up on a raised platform in the middle of a Wrigleyville bar, surrounded by spider web and demonic clown Halloween decor - but they perform the hell out of Richard O’Brien’s sexy, sci-fi, monster musical. Mere moments into “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” the three saucy Usherettes (Miki Byrne, Jillian Mayer, and Brittany Shock) led by the electric Magenta (Leah Isabel Tirado) entice us like cyberpunk Sirens into the world of Rocky Horror, welcoming shoutbacks and singing along. Now, The Rocky Horror Pictures Show has had a following of fishnet stockings-wearing, toast-throwing, rubber glove-snapping fans since midnight screenings started in New York City some thirty-six years ago - and their descendents are certainly present in the crowd at O’Malley’s. But for those of us with a lipstick letter “V” on our foreheads, Underscore Theatre provides a Virgin’s Guide to shoutbacks in their program, and offers $5 Prop Bags to encourage audience participation and “enhance pleasure.” In short, whether you’re a Rocky Horror virgin or seasoned deviant - all are welcome “Over at the Frankenstein Place.”

And new to the bizarre abode of Dr. Frank-N-Furter arrives the recently engaged, Brad Majors (Joe Zordan) and Janet Weiss (Sarah Hoch), who radiate the campy, virginal charm we expect and enjoy from the two characters around which this mad, dark world unfolds. Much credit is due to Zordan and Hoch, and not only for their stellar singing voices and comedic timing - but for their willingness to take off their clothes. Perhaps I’m overly self-conscious and cannot help but project myself into what it’s like having my fellow cast members strip me to my skivvys...but something about it puts anxiety in my imagination. And yet, I keep an appreciation laced with envy for the uninhibited joy of performing each and every Rocky Horror actor brings to this production. And it is a pleasure to behold.

As narrated by the eerily omniscient Criminologist (Harrison Gibbons), Janet and Brad are introduced to the Transylvanians, who wait with heaving breaths and maniacal smiles as the two approach, eager to corrupt them with their rambunctious revelry. As one might expect, “The Time Warp” becomes a jubilant dance party for all, led by the lovably crazed Riff Raff (Chad Michael Innis) and featuring a delightful tap dance from the bubbly, vivacious Columbia (Lianne Rodriguez). Riff Raff and his sister Magenta’s (Tirado) chemistry throughout the show pulses with such mischief and curious sexuality that I wished there existed a B-story of their relationship. But the true knave of the show is in Dr. Frank-N-Furter, who enters through the audience, stirring cat-calls and applause. And justly so. Anthony D’Amato demands the room in his “I Heart Chik-Fil-a” shirt, lace-up knee-highs, and dangling back-pocket hanky - crooning and shrieking and positively alluring.

To be frank, most of the story was lost on me, having only seen the film once. But I didn’t really care. Only vaguely recalling what Dr. Frank-N-Furter was doing with his creation, Rocky Horror (Jonas Davidow), I was a bit confused, but thoroughly enjoyed Davidow’s audacious dancing and upper body strength. Both Eddie (Aaron Stephenson) and Dr. Everett Scott’s (Dustin Rothbart) stories are mysteries to me, but damn could those fellas sing. Though at times the chatter in the bar made it hard to hear the actors, the cast held up, invested and vibrant, every one of them. And when it comes down to it, that’s what you come to The Rocky Horror Picture Show for - wild, raunchy, unabashed fun.

The final performance of Underscore Theatre’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show is next Wednesday, October 31st. Tickets are $29 and includes a drink package from 8-11PM. Attend this rousing holiday treat, and if not - better hope Underscore’s production becomes a Chicago Halloween staple for years to come.

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