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Review: 'Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Show' at Old Globe

September 27, 2011 | 12:45 am

  Kit Treece, from left, Matt McGrath, Laura Shoop, and Andrew Call in "Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Show"
This post has been corrected. See note below for details.

Didn’t we pass a castle back there? No, San Diego, I don’t mean the Mormon spires visible from Interstate 5. The lair of Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter, pansexual mad scientist and mascara whore, is just up ahead in “Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show,” now campily revived at the Old Globe. O'Brien's giddy 1973 sci-fi cult classic has now breached the tasteful bulwarks of regional theater, and one suspects the subscription sales manager is getting some interesting phone calls. 

A quick recap for the uninitiated: Squeaky-clean couple Brad (Kelsey Kurz) and Janet (Jeanna de Waal), lost into a convenient rainstorm, seek aid at a peculiar mansion full of people dressed for a 1980s Madonna video. Their host (Matt McGrath), a Dionysus in thigh-highs, quickly divests them of their damp clothes and inhibitions, as they embark on an odyssey of sexual discovery and hard-driving rock numbers (the five-piece band led by Mike Wilkins is excellent, but curiously out of place without wearing corsets).

Channeling Judy Garland and Dirk Bogarde, McGrath (a last-minute replacement for James Barbour), has the charisma and ease to command an audience, but he’s all dolled up with nowhere to go — storywise, that is. For all its nifty rear projections, dry ice, and artfully constructed leather gear, this “Horror” shares the identity crisis of Rocky (Sydney James Harcourt), the naughty doctor’s homemade test tube hottie: It doesn’t seem to know what it wants to express, other than a lively affection for the 1975 film. But if you aren't a Transylvanian or a devotee of "Glee," you may have trouble even following what's going on.

Underneath its B-movie pastiche, “Horror” can work as a pop midsummer night’s dream in which naive lovers are blindsided by their erotic compulsions. But this production, directed by James Vásquez (also a last-minute replacement), doesn’t take the time to let Brad and Janet’s story really land. This busy, oddly unsexy staging feels like a speed-thru, a rehearsal in which actors quickly hit their marks but hold back on the emotion until there’s an audience. Tongues never leave cheeks; that can be funny, but it doesn’t sustain an evening.

Happily, some moments transcend the camp: among them, the lovely “Don’t Dream It, Be It,” and the ever-irresistible “Time Warp.” Jason Wooten’s Riff Raff brings real vocal and dramatic power, and Rui Rita’s full-frontal lighting rocks the house. It's all harmless enough, and you can even purchase an audience participation bag of goodies in the lobby. But we’ll have to wait a little longer on a radical “Rocky Horror” rethink for the 21st century.

-- Charlotte Stoudt, from San Diego

“Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show” Old Globe Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego. 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Special performance 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 31; no performance Tuesday, Nov. 1. Ends Nov. 6. $29-$85. Contact: (619) 234-5623 or Running time: 2 hours.

[For the record: 5:33 p.m. Sept. 27: An earlier version of this review said that audience members are encouraged to bring playing cards, rice and other props for audience participation. In fact, the theater is not allowing props into the theater for the safety of the performers. It is selling $3 bag in the lobby  with a newspaper, mini flashlights, playing cards, balloons and a rubber glove.]

Photo: Kit Treece, from left, Matt McGrath, Laura Shoop, and Andrew Call. Credit: Henry DiRocco.