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The ‘Time Warp,’ Broadway Style

February 1, 2008

The ‘Time Warp’ – Broadway style:
New show whets appetites of ‘Rocky Horror’ cultists

Reviewed by Elizabeth Willse for the Star-Ledger

Section: Today. Date: 9/28/2000. Word count: 675

The Rocky Horror Show
Where: Circle in the Square, 1633 Broadway at 50th Street, New York
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays; 5 and 9:45 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays
How much: $30 to $79.50. Call (212) 239-6200.

Hello, my name is Elizabeth and I’m a “Rocky Horror” junkie. I have seen the cult movie more than 10 times and have been in four stage productions. My friend and enabler, Lisa, has seen it 20 times. Even when we’re in the audience, we’re compelled to dress ourselves in tuxedos, fishnet stockings and the like.

So the two of us weren’t sure what to expect from the new “Rocky Horror Show” at Manhattan’s Circle in the Square Theatre. No Tim Curry, no callbacks, and no throwing toast. The campy classic was last seen on Broadway in 1975, when it played barely a month before closing. Could it return without turning into just another Broadway show?

Yes, oh yes.

As soon as the Usherettes sang their way down the aisle, we were hooked. This new production winks at the show’s cult-movie heritage by creating a downstage “audience” of popcorn-laden, lighter-waving company members seated in the front row. The transition from film to theater is complete the moment Brad and Janet literally step off the movie screen and onto the stage.

Background: The original “Rocky Horror Show,” written by Richard O’Brien, surfaced in 1973 at the 60-seat Royal Court Theatre Upstairs in London. After a short while, it moved to the King’s Road Theatre, which seats 500, and was named best musical of the year by drama critics.

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” the film based on the musical, premiered in 1975, and despite the popularity of the live show, the movie version quickly headed toward box-office death. But then the proprietors of Greenwich Village’s Waverly Theatre decided to screen the satire at midnight.

By Halloween 1976, the movie had developed a loud cult following. They shouted back at the actors. They threw toast and toilet paper. They stood under the screen, costumed, and mirrored the antics of their favorite characters.

If any of this sounds confusing, you’re what’s known as a Rocky Horror virgin – someone who has never seen the movie in a theater, much less who knows when to wave a lighter in the air. (It’s during “Over at the Frankenstein Place.”)

For those Rocky Horror virgins, this new production is a gentle deflowering. You’re able to hear all the songs and understand all the lines – a rarity at screened performances. And though it’s racy, the smooth choreography and wry humor keep the show from being hugely offensive. It’s just moderately offensive.

During one preview, the audience stayed well-behaved until The Narrator – none other than Dick Cavett – took the stage. It’s his job to relate the progress of Brad and Janet’s journey, which he did with a cool delivery, ad-libbing to catch the rowdy audience members off-guard and earning a round of applause.

The entire cast turned in excellent performances, notably Joan Jett as the sullenly sexy, East Village punk Columbia, who is FAR too cool to tap dance. The role of Eddie/Dr. Scott showcased Lea DeLaria’s raw, powerful voice, and Alice Ripley transcended Susan Sarandon’s cautious on-screen sex appeal and reveled in the portrayal of Janet as virgin-turned-vamp.

The man with the hardest act to follow was Tom Hewitt, who stepped into the role – and the towering high heels – of Dr. Frank ’N’ Furter. Hewitt, clad in red vinyl or flowing white satin, struts across the stage, sometimes a prima donna, sometimes a predator. He embodied everything the role demanded: The wicked glee of seduction and the bittersweet yearning of his final lament. His resonant voice and charismatic presence commanded the audience’s attention without eclipsing the other performers.

Other notable performances included Daphne Rubin-Vega (“Rent”) as a sultry Magenta and Raul Esperanza as glittery Goth-boy Riff Raff. As Brad, Jarrod Emrick’s haunting performance of the seldom-heard “Once in a While” got us unexpectedly choked up.

We had first been exposed to “Rocky Horror” as a campy B-movie that only a cultist could love. This show was polished and powerful, and showcased some impressive talent. And it whet our appetites for even more – so after the show we headed downtown to the “Rocky Horror PICTURE Show” at the Cinema Village East. Yet again.

NOTES: Elizabeth Willse of Mendham attends Vassar College and aspires to play Dr. Frank ’N’ Furter as soon as she learns to walk in heels. Lisa Aurigemma, who contributed to this article, is an associate producer at a and dances one mean Time Warp.

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