Monday, September 22, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Theater Review

It's gender-bending musical madness at the 5th Avenue

Seattle Times theater critic

Theater review

"The Rocky Horror Show." Runs Tuesday-Sunday through Sept. 28, 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle; $15-$57 (206-292-ARTS).
Drag out the black fishnet stockings. Dust off the red feather boa. "The Rocky Horror Show" is back.

If seeing this cult-spectacular rock musical in 2003 at the 5th Avenue Theatre sounds like taking a time-warp trip back to the '70s (or the '80s, when The Empty Space Theatre had its own hit version), consider this: The show, and the movie it spawned, have been providing outlets for communal silliness for nearly 30 years without respite.

Someone must have written a doctoral thesis by now about this curious pop-culture phenom. Maybe it explains why so many otherwise-unassuming people go bonkers over writer-composer Richard O'Brien's twisted lampoon of B-movie clichés.

The onstage shenanigans begin when a dorky young couple, Brad and Janet, stumble into the lair and lab of lascivious, cross-dressing mad scientist Frank 'N Furter. By the end, they've dropped their inhibitions to cavort and have kinky sex with space aliens. (To be exact, creatures from the planet Transsexual, in the galaxy Transylvania.)

In the 5th Avenue's flash-tacky, gung-ho version of "Rocky Horror Show" (catalyzed, in part, by the show's recent Broadway revival), artistic director David Armstrong cultivates the same retro-rock-musical madness he tapped for his recent revivals of "Hair."

But "Rocky Horror Show" may prove an even hotter ticket, given its garishly spoofy, gender-bending, entirely escapist antics — and the pleasure that die-hard fans take in dressing up like the show's characters and talking back to the actors.

Indeed, the voluble guy sitting near me swore he's seen the movie "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" 327 times and was already on his third visit to the 5th Avenue production. For a nonaddicted or "virgin" viewer, one trip to this enjoyably full-throttle "Rocky Horror Show" may well suffice.

Armstrong employs a funky, flamboyant design for his staging, by Tom Sturge. He's also trolled the local talent pool, and much of the casting is inspired. "Hair" alum Louis Hobson plays Brad with geeky conviction.

Cheyenne Jackson (who recently bounced from local stages to Broadway success) has returned in a pair of gold lamé briefs to winningly embody the ultra-hunky, sweetly Frankenstein-esque Rocky.

An outlandishly made-up Nick Garrison and Lisa Estridge-Gray flourish as a pair of weird, unfaithful servants. Adorable Billie Wildrick sparkles as a hanger-on with the hots for Brandon O'Neill's dead/undead rocker Eddie.

There's also a fun cameo by Seattle comic Peggy Platt, and local TV personality John Curley gets into the irreverent spirit of things as the evening's pompous narrator.

As Frank 'N Furter, the show's ringmaster villain and chief prima donna, imported actor Doug Tompos lopes around in a leather bustier and other AC/DC outfits and delivers his double-entendres in an arch, acerbically British manner. He snags his laughs, but one wishes he'd loosen up and boost the drag charisma a few notches. (Where is Kevin Kent when you need him?)

No gripes about Laura Griffith, brought in to play Janet. She's a swell singer, and her ability to withstand a constant hail of audience insults with a straight face is remarkable.

Of course, the performers expect those verbal ripostes: It's part of the R-rated charm and challenge of doing this show. They also have the pleasure of wearing all those skimpy, spangly, vulgar costumes (designed here, with dash, by Bradley Reed), doing "The Time Warp" and other absurd dances (choreographed by director Armstrong) and singing O'Brien's catchy, pumped-up songs with a rocking combo led by the ever-reliable Richard Gray.

If exhibitionistic audience participation makes you cringe, "The Rocky Horror Show" probably won't thrill you. But if you'd like to go whole-hog at the show, you can consult a slew of "Rocky" Web sites for suggestions on how to behave/misbehave. The 5th Avenue folks just ask you not to bring any "naked flames" or food items to throw at the stage.

Misha Berson:

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company


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