Lauren Mccombs, Brian Bowles and Maggie Patten in "Rocky Horror" | Courtesy of CenterStage
Lauren Mccombs, Brian Bowles and Maggie Patten in “Rocky Horror” | Courtesy of CenterStage

Trying to offer a serious review of a stage production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is a challenge. How do we separate a production of the play from the film and the phenomenon? If a production apes the film closely, is this a good thing or a bad thing? Do we review the audience, the interactions, the scene and the setting?

Or do I say to hell with being serious and just let readers know that at Saturday’s late show at CenterStage at the Jewish Community Center, I had a great time doing the “Time Warp” again?

Director John R. Leffert gives us a stage show that owes a lot to the film, visually and tonally. Costumes on the main characters, as well as hair and makeup choices, generally reflect the 1975 cult classic movie.

Where Leffert moves beyond the film is his ability to incorporate the phenomenon that has arisen since then, and to envision and deliver a show that maximizes the fun factor by encouraging the audience, the actors and even the orchestra to engage in the aspects of the midnight screenings that have run in constant rotation since the film first debuted over 40 years ago.

Mike Fryman and Kiel Dodd | Courtesy of CenterStage
Mike Fryman and Kiel Dodd | Courtesy of CenterStage

He accomplishes this in a variety of ways, starting with the late show times. The Saturday performance I attended started at 11 p.m. and got out just before 1 a.m. I felt a Pavlovian need to hit a Denny’s after the final curtain.

In addition, Leffert will sell you a bag of props at the door, complete with a script that lets you know when to employ the various accouterments, in case you are a virgin to the “Rocky Horror” experience. My personal favorite was the water gun.

Leffert has directed a show that moves across the stage and past the proscenium, down the lovely grand staircase at the front of the stage, and out into the audience. It manages to capture those late nights at the picture show pretty perfectly, and having the chorus right next to you makes it nearly impossible to resist the urge to jump up and dance when the time comes.

The chorus especially commits to acting as an audience stand-in, frequently voicing some of the popular yell backs, which theoretically would encourage a shy audience to get involved. My audience wasn’t shy, with near constant interaction from all corners of the auditorium.

The chorus was pretty great all around, creating a great big choral sound buoyed by a rocking five-person band. The dances were tight, and they pulled off the sexy-goth-from-space look incredibly well. I swear they had me thinking I need to find my old fishnets and maybe try rocking a corset next time I hit the club.

The performances by the leads are strong though unimaginative. But really, no one wanted a radically new Frank N. Furter from Mike Fryman, and if Erin Jump had taken too many liberties in her role as Janet Weiss, the audience would no doubt have yelled “Dammit” for the wrong reasons. But the leads are striking the right balance of homage and original. They make the songs their own and commit to the camp rather than letting the performances comment on it. Riff Raff (Brian Bowles) and Magenta (Lauren McCombs) particularly stood out, with an incredible level of verve and vehemence.

Despite the obvious nostalgia factor surrounding this production, there were a ton of teens in the audience, and while they were sometimes confused by the fervor with which their elders yelled and carried on, they quickly got swept up in the action.

Cast of "Rocky Horror" | Courtesy of CenterStage
Cast of “Rocky Horror” | Courtesy of CenterStage

(It’s a good thing this isn’t a serious review, or I might feel the need to address the trash fire of awful semiotics this show presents. I mean, the second act starts with two comedic rape scenes full of victim blaming and coercion. There is also a general suggestion that any man who wants to dress like a woman is probably a murderer from space. But this isn’t a serious review, so I can ignore that stuff. I’ll just say: Parents, please discuss the show with your teens and explain that consent is important, and a nuanced approach to trans issues in the ’70s was an alien concept to America.)

CenterStage’s production of “Rocky Horror” is good, clean, deviant fun. Tickets are $20, and the prop bag will cost you an additional $5 — but it was worth it. Take some cash for the bar (which you can visit throughout the show), because they don’t take cards. It continues Saturday, May 21, at 11 p.m., and Sunday, May 22, at 7 p.m.

Eli Keel
Eli Keel is “pretty much” a Louisville native. You may have seen him around town reading poetry, short stories, dancing or acting. He’s a passionate locavore, so you may have also seen him stuffing his face at one of Louisville’s amazing restaurants. When he isn’t too busy writing short stories, he blogs at amanwalksintoablog.wordpress.com.