A mental mindfuck would have been nice but, like the line in the song in this TV performance of “Dammit Janet,” all mindfuckery was glossed over in Fox’s post-Glee, Disneyfied, Kidz-bop-friendly performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show began as a stage play, The Rocky Horror Show, and Fox didn’t even have the imagination to present this live performance as The Rocky Horror TV Show. The producers knew enough to give a nod to the original play by casting Ivy Levan as the Usherette but dropped the popcorn immediately. “And then Andrew said prunes?” Who the fuck read this to them? Holy shit. Dana Andrews’ turn in Night of the Demon was one of the great satanic mechanic-built whodunit jalopies. Levan could at least have read Patricia Quinn’s lips on the first movie.
I spent a great deal of my early adolescence in a Friday night shadow cast for The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Budding performers scrabbled together with fans in makeshift costumes that got slightly better by the week. We studied The Rocky Horror Show like a bible. Bought the sheet music, subscribed to the newsletters, thrilled at all the mistakes on the screen. Yes, part of what we loved and love about The Rocky Horror Picture Show, especially longtime fans, are the mistakes. The hands that grab the exercise horse, the cables pulling Dr. Scott’s wheelchair, Janet’s sweater of a different color, and Columbia pointing that nipple at us, though we’re not quite sure if that was a mistake. It was cheaply made and better for it. They could afford to break barriers because it was low-budget and not too far removed from the tiny stages the troupe played.
A network presentation takes all this away and presents us with a kinky boot camp in place of low budget exuberance. The canned audience participation only made it worse, especially as the actors paid no attention to the stalled rhythms, overacting, and pregnant pauses that made them possible in the first place. It is an attention grabbing distraction that doesn’t add to the performance or the viewing experience. It hits new lows when they try to work the audience participation lines into the dialogue. The Meat Loaf line, for instance, is real gag-killer.
Somebody shoot the trumpet player, the overplaying, attention grabbing wanna-be lead guitarist. All of the music is paced too quickly. It doesn’t add to the excitement of the performance, though. A lot of times it sounds like they are hurrying to keep up. There are spots where the actors can’t even find the one, which makes me suspect there was some post-production auto-tune.
Victoria Justice’s overdone trills turn every line into a nursery rhyme lullaby. Oh and what happened to Brad’s falsetto? Ryan McCartan saves his upper register for one blast at the end.
The Rocky Horror Show was written by the most fluid of gender identifiers, Richard O’Brien, and the show was groundbreaking, but Laverne Cox’s Dr. Frank N. Furter is, sadly, mere gimmick casting. Laverne plays it like she’s in on a joke. She doesn’t have the mania, the true commitment to the reality. She tosses away her lines like a faded Mae West, when she should cling to them as long as she can like a dress to Fay Wray. Cox’s mad scientist is more Bowie than Curry when it could have turned up the Grace Jones volume.
To distinguish this from a glossy, big-budget shadow cast, the performers have to bring something new to these much-studied characters. During the live broadcast of The Wizard of Oz a decade ago, Nathan Lane was able to squeeze a new laugh out of the song “If I were King of the Forest” that even the great Bert Lahr missed. Ryan McCartan does an almost perfect impression of Barry Bostwick’s major asshole, Brad Majors, though.
Reeve Carney’s Riff Raff was the best surprise of the night. He took the character to new and exciting places, especially compared with Columbia’s bored urban fangirl mockery. When you don’t have the budget for dogs, you make the domestic help provide the barks and only Carney releases the hounds.
Poor Magenta, she barely registers, regardless of her transfixing day-glow hair. Why doesn’t she get to slide down the bannister on the stairs as an intro? I did love Sal Piro, one of the original great shadow-cast members, as the photographer. He caught that voice perfectly.
Ben Vereen flubs a few lines: swaps pain for shame, and knows many a great thing. But his Nazi bit ain’t fooling no one. He always wanted to wear fishnets. Staz Nair didn’t have the muscle to pull off Rocky. He breaks out of expectations once, when he goes to follow the exciting Eddie, with his leather and his LOVE and HATE tattoos, though it looks like Adam Lambert hasn’t been on a motorcycle in his life. Why are Rocky’s shorts so long? He should be straining at the seams. And would it kill you to give him a second belly button?
There is a boozy haze over the line readings (rather than a druggy one), like the kids wanted to put on a show and spiked their Red Bull with salt peter. Dr. Furter comes across as more desperate than seductive in the mistaken identity scenes.
The producers drain all the dynamics of sexual tension the way restricted diet people can boil the taste out of any meal. There’s no horse spitality. Columbia pulls out Brad’s aces, taking away any possibility of a sexual innuendo. When Frank and Rocky are going down in the elevator, they have to steal a joke from Aerosmith to get bridal suite-ready. Brad doesn’t grab Janet’s breasts when the car hits a bump. You can’t imagine this Janet ever exclaiming “Oh Brad, I’m pregnant.” Victoria Justice probably took the role of Janet to help her break into the adult role phase of her career. Instead, she solidifies her typecasting as a Disney after school special actress.
The most depressing segment may have turned me off permanently. “Toucha Toucha Touch Me” made me feel dirty. That’s foreplay? That’s the kind of stuff we see in a pre-K playground or from the vantage point of a slumber party voyeur. Think Buck Henry in Saturday Night Live. It gave me a queasy feeling, like it was underage smut or something.
Why is everybody wearing so much clothes in the floor show? They’re more dressed there than they are when they’re running around the castle. They seem far less sexually liberated, Dr. Scott’s wheels need greasing and Columbia doesn’t get it in the tit at the end.
Finally, Tim Curry is a class act.