"The Rocky Horror Show" never has been and never will be mistaken for a great musical.
That said, it's hard to think of a show that, properly done, is more diverting, more sheer fun. Rowdy, raucous and raunchy, it can provoke a surge of giggles over its two hours. Thanks in part to the audience's reaction to the 1975 film version, a cult classic that may be the quintessential midnight movie, "Rocky Horror" has become full-on interactive theater, with audiences doing shoutouts of favorite lines and commenting on the action as it unfolds.
"Rocky Horror," created by out-of-work English actor Richard O'Brien as an affectionate spoof of grade-B sci-fi flicks, is now hunkered down at San Jose's City Lights Theater Company, where it will be in residence until Aug. 25. CLTC had a big summertime hit with the musical almost a decade ago, and this fresh take on the show from co-directors Lisa Mallette and Kit Wilder may very well repeat that success.
The trick with "Rocky Horror" is finding a cast of actors who can walk a rather thin line between playing up the material's campy qualities and falling into shameless mugging. It's not easy, especially when the lead characters are a bisexual transvestite scientist named Frank-N-Furter, a virginal couple named Brad and Janet, who stumble into his castle on a rainy night, and the brother and sister act of Riff Raff and Magenta, who are from outer space. Not to mention Eddie, a biker/ex-delivery boy who's been turned into a zombie, and Rocky himself -- a studly creature in very tight gold shorts who Frank-N-Furter has created for his own pleasure.
In this production, the cast put together by Mallette and Wilder rises to the occasion. They hit the right notes and have a lot of fun with the show but never stray too far into overacting. Nathaniel Rothrock (42nd Street Moon's "Carnival!") gets the flamboyant role of Frank-N-Furter and oozes salacious sex appeal. The roles of Janet and Brad -- who will go from virginal to oversexed in the course of a couple of hours -- get pitch-perfect performances from Alicia Gangi Malone and Chase Campbell. Malone, who has the best voice in the show, is particularly enticing after she morphs into a lusty lady.
Matty Gregg and Annie Donahey, both newcomers to CLTC, steal a number of scenes as Riff Raff and Magenta. And one of the crowd favorites on opening night was CLTC regular Ken Boswell, whose droll delivery of the show's narration was delightful.
Mallette and Wilder, who played Frank-N-Furter in the last CLTC production of the show, keep things moving briskly across Ron Gasparinetti's clever set. Musical director Gus Kambeitz has done a good job of fine-tuning the vocals as well as putting together a robust house band. (Sometimes on opening night, the band was a bit too robust, threatening to overwhelm the actors on some songs.)
The problems that have been part of "Rocky Horror" from its beginnings are still there. Most notably, the first part of Act 2 lacks the punch of the rest of the show, although the CLTC cast tries mightily to keep up the energy.
But for the most part, this production of "Rocky Horror" is a treat -- a fun, frisky night at the theater. All you need to do is brush up on your "Time Warp" steps and get in the "Rocky Horror" mood.
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By Richard O'Brien
Through: Aug. 25
Where: City Lights Theater Company, 529 S. Second St., San Jose
Running time: 2 hours (one intermission)
Tickets: $24.95-$39.95; 408-295-4200, www.cltc.org