SPECIAL PREVIEW: The Upstate’s Not-So-Rocky Love Affair with ‘Rocky Horror’

(Left to right) The 2018 Poster, Brian Clowdus in 2015, Jon Kilpatrick in the 2015 SLT version and Will Ragland (2010 & 2012).

Two Theatres Present the Cult Musical Sensation This Season

BY SANDY STAGGS
ARTS WRITER

There are great roles. And then there are GREAT roles: Willy Loman. Hamlet. Lady Macbeth. Blanche DuBois. Dr. Frank-N-Furter.

SOUND-OF-A-PHONOGRAPH-NEEDLE-SREECHING-ACROSS-A-VINYL-RECORD!

Why, you ask, is the Sweet Transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania on this list of esteemed parts?

Because what other role (besides Hedwig) will afford the straightest actors on planet Earth an opportunity to adorn garter belts, skimpy costumes and outrageous make-up without anyone batting a false eyelash?

And this season has the distinction of two glorious productions of the cult classic musical “The Rocky Horror Show” by Richard O’Brien. The Warehouse Theatre is kicking off its 45th season Friday through Sept. 22 with its uber-successful love affair with the science fiction phenomenon – this is the company’s fourth staging since 2010 – and by popular demand, Spartanburg Little Theatre revives “Rocky” – the troupe’s very first fringe show in 2015 – to conclude its 73rd season next July.

The leaders of The Warehouse and SLT know “Rocky” will fill seats and coffers. Because this show brings in patrons who may never set foot in a live theatre all season.

They come for the freak show. They come to yell obscenities like “Slut!” and “Asshole!” They come for the midnight shows (or 11 p.m. at the Warehouse). They come to throw goodies from the participation packs available at concessions. And they come to dress up as their favorite characters from Dr. Frank-N-Furter to Riff Raff and Magenta. And often, they come more than once.

Yes it’s okay to be a freak, as Warehouse guest director and choreographer Jenna Tamisiea Elser, co-founder of Glow Lyric Theatre, told the Greenville Journal this week: “The message of the show is so important in that it talks about being completely accepting of who you are even if someone calls you a freak or they don’t agree with the way you live.”

If you are a newbie, here is the plot in a nutshell: The just engaged lovebirds Brad and Janet are on a drive and their car breaks down in a thunderstorm. They seek shelter at a castle owned by the mysterious transsexual Dr. Frank-N-Furter and chock-full of weirdos. There, the couple is enticed into sexual liaisons (before marriage, yikes!) and discover the mad doctor’s creation of the perfect man, Rocky. Oh, and did I mention the castle’s denizens are from outer space?

In addition, this musical boasts some of the best humdinger songs of any rock musical this side of Uranus: the indelible “Sweet Transvestite,” the very danceable “Time Warp,” the rockin’ “Hot Patootie,” the harmonies of the 1950s-style “Science Fiction Double Feature,” the humor of “Damn It, Janet,” and the sexual liberation of “Touch-A-Touch-A-Touch Me,” just to name a few.

The Warehouse’s previous mountings have included everything from dildos hanging all about the theatre in a production starring Upstate actor and Mill Town Players titan Will Ragland (2010 and 2012), to a dual baton-twirling scientist (Serenbe Playhouse’s Brian Clowdus in 2015) and a stripper pole. The current incarnation features African-American actor Frank L. Humphrey III, in the lead role.

And not only do audiences come time and time again for this musical that gets wildly re-interpreted with every staging, much like any Shakespeare play, but actors come back time and again to be part of the “new” Rocky. And some, like Humphrey, who is the son of a preacher man, even temporarily put aside their religious objections to revel in the show’s hedonistic and decadent qualities.

One of the Upstate’s most prominent character actors Jon Kilpatrick marks his fourth appearance in “The Rocky Horror Show” with this Warehouse production. He has been a Phantom twice at The Warehouse, and starred as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in Divine-inspired make-up in the SLT staging. This time out, he plays Riff Raff, the houseboy and servant.

He said he and other artists (like cast mate Giulia Dalbec in her second “Rocky” appearance), thrive on the “constant inconsistency.”

“The show is never the same. Even each night of a single run the audience and the show itself always changes,” he adds. “I love that aspect of this style of theatre. I love that no matter the interpretation or approach this show is always relevant.”

“Embracing sex as a beautiful and fun act. And the welcoming of the weirdos. The misfits. The ones who’ve been rejected. The show welcomes them all.” he said.

Dave LaPage, another frequent Warehouse actor, plays the Narrator. And though this is first time on stage in “Rocky,” LaPage is no stranger to “misfit” roles, having played at least three drag, trans or androgynous parts in the last two years in “I Am My Own Wife,” “Cabaret” and Mark Twain’s “Is He Dead?” And he has been spotted before in full-on drag in the audience at previous “Rocky” performances.

“I think what draws actors back time after time is that it’s just a fun show. It’s not a complicated show musically and it’s a cheesy horror/comedy, but the characters are interesting to explore and interacting with Rocky Horror audiences is such a unique experience,” LaPage said.

LaPage believes audiences flock to the show for a few reasons: “First, they get to participate in the show. It’s so much more than just a spectator show. Second, the music is exciting. Some of it may not be deep or make the most sense, but the simple, sexy, rhythmic driving beat of many of the songs really gets the audience moving.”

And, LaPage said, “I think the show gives people a chance to express part of who they are (or who they want to be) that they don’t normally get to express. And I think that’s a main message of the show: don’t be afraid to be who you are, no matter how weird or eccentric it may seem.”

Janice Issa Wright returns as music director and leads the live band that includes Greenville musicians Patrick Landis, David Sims, Logan Belcher, and Brett Batson.

Also in this talented cast at The Warehouse are Maddie Tisdel as Magenta, Jacob McKee as Brad, Paige Vasel as Janet, Clare Ruble, Rob Kahn, Casey Palmisano, Matt Groves, Hakwon Hawkins, and Kenzie Wynne.

“The Rocky Horror Show” will also showcase designs by Brandon Roak (Scenic), Ida Bostian (Costumes), Tony Penna (Lights), Kurt Conway (Sound), and Cassidy Bowles (Properties).

Tickets are $40 for General Admission, $45 for Reserved Seating, and $65 for Cabaret Seats which include participation packs and drinks, as well as the closest seats to the Transylvanians. Tickets can be purchased at www.WarehouseTheatre.com or by calling 864-235-6948.

Showdates for the SLT production are in July 2019. Check the theatre’s website for audition info at www.spartanburglittletheatre.org.

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