Wednesday, October 19, 2016

AntiGravity teams up with Red Fish Theatre for a high-flying reimagining of The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Live Active Cultures

Posted By on Wed, Oct 19, 2016 at 4:00 AM

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A little over a quarter-century ago I discovered The Rocky Horror Picture Show, then newly released on VHS (kids, ask your parents what that was), in the cult movie section of my local video rental store (and what those were). Intrigued by the title, I took it home but didn't make it to the end, bored to tears by the leaden dialogue and B-movie plot. It wasn't until the next year, when I first experienced the film as a college freshman in a movie theater with a live audience, that Rocky Horror seized my crazed imagination, and in some ways it's never really let go. In the decade after my RHPS de-virginization, I went on to perform in the show hundreds of times in Virginia, New Jersey, New York and Florida. I've produced and directed multiple "shadowcast" re-enactment troupes, including Orlando's own Rich Weirdoes, which I helped establish at Universal CityWalk's Cineplex in 2012 after organizing an international Rocky Horror convention there in 2001.

By the time I entered my third decade of Rocky Horror fandom, midnight showings of the film had lost their appeal for me, as the formerly cohesive audience participation and clever dialogue devolved into crude chaos ... or perhaps they've always been that way, and I've just gotten older. Either way, while my obsession with the Picture Show waned, the original Rocky Horror Show stage play has remained an important influence in my artistic career. Richard O'Brien's musical sci-fi satire helped spark my ongoing interest in interactive and immersive theater, and influenced many of my theatrical efforts over the years, including Phantasmagoria; co-producer John DiDonna and I met performing the play at Theatre Downtown in 2000, and the 2004 production I directed him in remains one of my proudest memories.

It's been a decade since I was deeply involved in Rocky Horror, but I've followed the handful of area stagings over the intervening years – such as Josh "Ginger Minj" Eads' productions at Sleuths – with interest. Last weekend, I followed the show's latest local incarnation all the way to Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway (aka the seventh circle of tourist traffic hell), where the musical has found a temporary home in a most unusual venue. AntiGravity appears from the outside to be an Art Deco theater incongruously erected in a Kissimmee strip mall; inside, it's like a cross between an industrial warehouse and circus tent, with a sharply elevated stage and soaring walls of exposed brick bracketed by the bungee cords and other apparatus that allows AntiGravity's aerialists to perform their heart-stopping Cirque-style acrobatics.

Stunt designer Daniel Stover's AntiGravity troupe has teamed up with director Adam Graham of Red Fish Theatre for a high-flying reimagining of The Rocky Horror Show that I can certainly say is unlike any I've experienced – and when you've worn the fishnets as many times as I have, that's saying something. AntiGravity's rough-hewn confines conceal a wealth of toys, including hydraulics floors that unfold to reveal trampolines and ceiling-mounted tracks that allow harnessed performers to run horizontally across walls like in NYC's Fuerza Bruta. Nearly every scene in the show is embellished with airborne feats, from Riff Raff's dramatic wall-walking entrance in "Over at the Frankenstein Place" to the silk-swinging solo accompanying "I'm Going Home."

Of course, midair marvels alone don't make a must-see musical (see my 2015 review of Pippin), but Graham achieved his primary duty as director by assembling a first-class leading cast. Moses Galarza's take on Frank N. Furter is totally different from Tim Curry's iconic transvestite, adding a touch of modern sass and a more melodic approach to the tunes. Victor Souffrant and Alyssa Yost are hilariously unhinged as sibling servants Riff Raff and Magenta, and Erica Rush's cheerleader Columbia is appropriately irritating. Tony Flaherty can carry a tune (a historical rarity for actors playing the title role) while simultaneously swinging from the ceiling, and Kalen Dennis brings a gender-bent twist to Eddie, with ensuing pronoun confusion.

Holding all the madness in check (more or less) is emcee Logan Donahoo, who leads the pre-show warmup and intermission trivia contest, along with a rotating team of narrators, including J. Michael Roddy and Adrian LePeltier. I had the pleasure of seeing Summer Aiello and Robyn Pedretti Kelly share the role, and they brought the same aptitude for audience-baiting improv to the Z-grade exposition that they display daily at Universal's Horror Make-Up Show.

My favorite member of the ensemble was Tiana Akers, who invested Janet Weiss with a spunky self-empowerment that defies any slut-shaming; when she hesitates to take the hand Brad (Adam Galarza) offers during "Superheroes," it adds a depth to the characters that I wish were more present throughout the production. While the aerial acrobatics are impressive, they aren't always thematically integrated into the action and often overwhelm the staging, leaving the leads standing stiffly in static formations. Graham gets the play's snappy pacing and campy comedy down pat, but the overhead aesthetics occasionally obscure opportunities to dig under the surface for something more heartfelt. Even the band led by Serina Marshall lacks soul; their by-the-numbers synthesizer renderings of the soundtrack are sufficient, but without real electric guitar, it ain't rock & roll. However, even if – like Icarus and Dr. Furter himself – this Rocky Horror doesn't ultimately accomplish all its ambitious intentions, the altitude it achieves along the way is well worth applauding.


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