With its own production of Rocky Horror at Just Off Broadway, Minds Eye Theatre seems to have a hit on its hands. Ushers have never had to bring more chairs into the often-misused space -- until now. At one performance, teen-age girls with blue hair sat near balding dads in khaki shorts who, as callow youth, might have attended The Rocky Horror Picture Show in fishnet stockings.
This story has something for everyone except the easily offended. Straitlaced Brad (Darren Sextro) and Janet (Karen Jones) have a blow-out one dark and stormy night and end up at the castle of Dr. Frank N. Furter (Aaron Tracy), a towering transvestite of indeterminate sexual appetites. "It's a hunting lodge for rich weirdos," Brad says upon entering the lobby, where fourteen Transylvanians are coupling or tripling with dog chains, paddles, whips and a pair of strap-ons.
It's a climactic night in more ways than one. Frank is about to unveil his newest creation, a mute, brainless hunk of brawn named Rocky (Justin Stewart), whose idiotic stares make male models look like Rhodes scholars. The plots about world domination and frozen corpses get blurred by the bustle of Frank's entourage, which includes Riff Raff (Jess Morley, screeching beyond his vocal cords' capability), Magenta (Gayle Hutchens, more often than not misplacing the pitch) and Columbia (Cassandra Keenum). The agile Transylvanians are costumed with shear -- and sheer -- madness by Barbara Paeth.
Director Christopher King recreates the cult-movie experience with the requisite props and heckling. Before the show, fans can buy $5 prop bags containing newspaper, lighters and squirt guns, and select audience members who have seen the movie about 1,000 times shout their lines on cue: "asshole" for every time Brad's full name is mentioned and "slut" for Janet Weiss. Their strength diminishes, however, as the evening progresses; one evening a patron sat with his chin on his clenched fist, looking bored but dutifully calling out his phallus-obsessed retorts.
But the pathos of latching on to a 25-year-old trend doesn't detract from the playful performances of Sextro and Jones as the victimized couple and Tracy as the evil but ultimately sweet mad scientist. Tracy has a powerful voice and a slithery sassiness perfect for all of the part's requirements. Sextro and Jones start out as square as dorm rooms, which makes their eventual appearance in red lingerie all the more blissful. Marissa McKay's choreography competently fills the space, and Lindsey B. Jones' lighting brings the show's modest budget a lot of bang.
At a late July preview, the audience heartily ate up the work of Mary Bond Davis as Motormouth Maybelle, the "Negro music" record store owner; Bat Boy's Kerry Butler as the awkward Penny Pingleton and Marissa Jaret Winokur in the Lake role of chubby, segregation-busting Tracy Turnblad.
But the biggest ovation was for the largest (in two senses of the word) actor: Harvey Fierstein as Tracy's obese mother, Edna, who blossoms perhaps even more than her plucky daughter. Fierstein's first appearance, from behind Edna's ironing board, received about two minutes of maniacal applause, and the actor stopped the show a couple more times.
The candy-colored set, by David Rockwell (whose usual work in hotel and restaurant design extends to Kansas City's Lidia's), is juicy and fruity. In her bio, ensemble member Hollie Howard, who plays one of the kids on the TV dance program within the show, sends out clumsily written thanks to her family "for supporting me, a Missouri farm girl, to Broadway." But the slyest credit belongs to John Waters (in Kansas City most recently for the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts conference in March). The "trash auteur" is cited as a "consultant," quite an understatement regarding the man who created these indelible characters.