REVIEW: Come Up to the Lab at Spartanburg Little Theatre for Thrilling ‘Rocky Horror’

Four Stars and Four Pumps for this stellar production of “The Rocky Horror Show.” This is a creative and fresh staging and a thrilling, hilarious romp into unpredictable horror camp with timeless rock songs we all know and love.

K. Ray Jones is Dr. Frank-N-Furter

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

The Lab is open again at Chapman Cultural Center for the encore appearance of that Sweet Transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania. And Jay E. Coffman’s trilling and sexy reprise of “The Rocky Horror Show” is even better than the first alien landing some four years ago.

As SLT’s controversial debut Fringe Series musical in July 2015, “The Rocky Horror Show” opened to great fanfare and on the coattails of the Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage just two weeks before opening night. “Rocky” may be a staple of professional or college theatres, but for a conservative community theatre like SLT to stage “Rocky Horror”? Scandalous!

This is the fourth “Rocky” I have reviewed in a many years and I have come to the conclusion that I prefer the grand-scale of the Chapman stage and the full-Phantom treatment of the Off-Broadway cult classic, as opposed to the Blackbox experience with minimal cast.

A brief recap if it’s been a while since you strapped on fishnets and stilettos: A young unsuspecting couple Brad Majors and Janet Weiss have a flat tire in a thunderstorm and find themselves locked in a haunted house full of freaks, debauchery and aliens.

And speaking of freaks, Coffman has brilliantly set the story in an abandoned amusement park (the first production was in a haunted theatre) with an “American Horror Story: Freakshow” aesthetic and the Phantoms (the ensemble) and principals taking on tropes from roadside carnivals such as the strongman (Charlie Hyatt in a leather harness). Don’t expect a three-breasted Angela Bassett to show up, but corsets and fishnets (costumes by Katherine Wojcik) and erotic movement (choreography by Haley Hayes Bolton with Tiffany Wright assisting)) are in abundant supply.

Dr. Tim Baxter-Ferguson’s creepy set is menacing and gorgeous, and rife with Universal Pictures iconic monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein and Wolfman) and multiple levels for smoke-filled entrances for the stars to launch into Richard O’Brien’s irresistible rock numbers like the “Time Warp.”

Our innocent protagonists (Otherwise known as “Asshole” and “Slut”) are played to perfected innocence (and vocal skill) by Samantha Hood and Austin Fowler, both from the company’s recent stellar production of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.”

Real-life stage couple Benjamin Abrams and Anna Elyse Lewis have elbow sex as siblings Riff Raff and Magenta. Oh, and Lewis’ final “Science Fiction Double Feature” alone is worth the price of admission!

Kit Lindsey scores points for her hilarious Columbia who, heartbroken over the murder of her boyfriend Eddie (John Garrison also from “Smokey Joe’s Cafe”) and delivering the best tantrum (and stage exit) this side of Uranus.

As the divine lab experiment Rocky, Carson Wolfe in gold lame Go-Go shorts is … heavenly.

Jim Huber is our witty Narrator for the evening, and aside from our star, earns the most laughs for his wry delivery and banter with the audience, sometimes even scolding us for being late with a callback.

But no one can touch the force of K. Ray Jones in the coveted role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the evil bisexual scientist who rules this house of freaks. With one tantalizing double-costume and divine wig reveal after another (from Dionne Warwick to Cruella de Vil), Jones (who last appeared on this stage as the Sebastian the Crab in “The Little Mermaid”) has it all: sass, interstellar wit, flair and one helluva of voice. Though on this Saturday evening, he was drowned out by the band and ensemble (and maybe some hootin’ and hollerin’ from the audience) in the signature “Sweet Transvestite”, Jones thrives in 4-inch heels and basks in the malevolent charm of the character, reacting in character to the nonstop barrage of callbacks from over-excited patrons. Without uttering a syllable, he just a cocked his neck and pursed his lips. And it worked…for a short time anyway.

And rounding out the cast are thirteen marvelous phantoms this time: Jade Alford, Blake Clawson, John Garrison, Miranda Harrison, Jillian Hoffman, Charlie Hyatt, Kareem Johnson, Blake Kirsch, Brandon Mimnaugh, Ashleigh Newer, Rockii Nelson, Erin O’Neil, and Trey Westbrook.

LeRoy Kennedy is music director for “Rocky” and leads the live band with Kevin Heuer on drums, Shawn Allen on guitar, Jordan Hanner on bass, and Sincere Hatten on saxophone.

Lighting design is by Peter Lamson and Nick Alberts in stage manager.

THURSDAY, JULY 18 @ 8 p.m.: SERVICE INDUSTRY NIGHT: Use code TIMEWARP to save 25%
FRIDAY, JULY 19 @ Midnight: UPSTATE PRIDE NIGHT Use code ROCKYPRIDE to save 25%.

The Rocky Horror Show” continues Thursday – Saturday, July 18-20 @ 8 p.m. with one midnight show Friday night. All shows are at Chapman Cultural Center, 200 E. St. John St. in Spartanburg. For tickets, visit www.chapmanculturalcenter.org or call (864) 542-ARTS.

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