Boston Rock Opera's Rocky Horror

From The Boston Phoenix, Cellars by Starlight: October 9, 1997
Show tunes: Boston Rock Opera’s Rocky Horror
by Brett Milano

Is it still The Rocky Horror Show without the rice, toast, and flying toilet paper? Boston Rock Opera’s production of the show is faithful to the original stage play and 1975 film in all but one respect: audience members are warned upon entrance that they won’t be allowed to throw anything at the stage. And when I saw the show on opening night, a surprisingly polite audience also kept vocal participation to a minimum. Eternal nerd Brad Majors (David Ilku) made it through the entire show without once being called an asshole. The no-neck status of the Criminologist (Pat McGrath) was never remarked upon. And Frank-n-furter, the Transylvanian transvestite (played by Ryan Landry from Space Pussy), even got to “shiver with antici. . . pation” without having a roomful of people yell “Say it!” during the pause.

In some ways Rocky Horror is a more obvious choice than anything BRO has attempted so far — it’s more fun than Jesus Christ Superstar, has more memorable tunes than the Kinks’ Preservation Act II, and is more theatrically fleshed out (so to speak) than the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper. Instead of building a plot from an all-music concept album, BRO had familiar characters and a complete script to work with; and it stuck largely to the look and spirit of the film. Frank-n-furter’s house is still a cross between Dracula’s castle and Man Ray. And the usual gang’s all here: Charles Atlas dreamguy Rocky (Garrett Kimball) tapdancing groupie Columbia (Holly Sugar of the Sugar Twins), proto-goth vamp Magenta (Ticia Low), Eno-esque skinhead Riff Raff (Bill Hough). Ryan Landry played Frank-n-furter much as he plays himself in Space Pussy, managing to outdo Tim Curry’s original for outright camp. Only one characterization was a major departure: instead of playing Eddie as a ’50s greaser, as Meat Loaf did in the film, T.C. Cheever turns him into . . .well, we’d hate to give it away, but think Las Vegas.

For those of us who’ve attended The Rocky Horror Picture Show a handful of times without actually sitting down and watching the thing, last week’s opening was a relatively low-key experience. Fortunately, the restraint was in the audience and not on stage. The Boston Rock Opera company (which includes more full-time actors and fewer bandmembers this time around) got right into the libertine spirit of this show, the bastard child of B-movies and ’70s glitter rock.

Still, there were a few signs of the times. Since this production is a benefit for AIDS Action, Frank-n-furter inserts a safe-sex (but still pro-sex) message after he’s had his way with Brad and Janet. He also does a lyric update during “Sweet Transvestite,” suggesting they watch “an old Keanu [instead of Steve] Reeves movie” — just the sort of subtext that Keanu has long been trying to avoid. And the sex and violence in the original were toned down a bit, with the two most visceral scenes — the murder of Eddie, and Frank-n-furter’s double seduction of Brad and Janet — both played as slapstick (the latter was the night’s funniest turn, thanks to a quick ad-libs with a fake penis that refused to stay attached). Still, you can’t desexualize Rocky Horror too much, not when the Transylvanian crew distribute condoms during the intermission (likely why Thursday’s show was picketed by the same five folks who hand out Jesus pamphlets on the Red Line).

In short, Rocky Horror isn’t much closer to being respectable now than it was in the ’70s, and that’s one reason it holds up. Another is that the songs are a lot better than you may remember: composer/lyricist Richard O’Brien (whose only post-Rocky output was the flopped sequel Shock Treatment) synthesized show tunes, bubblegum pop, art rock, and David Bowie’s early catalogue into obvious singles like the Queen-derived “Sweet Transvestite” and the big dance number “Time Warp.” The house band, led by Mick Maldonado, navigated the soundtrack with ease — no small feat, since it was originally performed by some of England’s most expensive studio pros. (Special mention goes to Chainsuck drummer Perry James for nailing the parts originally played by Procol Harum’s BJ Wilson.) By getting the music and the spirit right, the BRO crew can do the Time Warp without getting caught in a time warp.

The Rocky Horror Show will be performed tonight, tomorrow, and Saturday (October 9, 10, and 11) at 8:30 p.m. at Massachusetts College of Art’s Tower Auditorium. Tickets are $18; call 450-1347.

Rocky Horror – TheaterMirror Review

“The Rocky Horror Show”
Reviewed by Derek J. McClellan for

Presented to raise money for the Aids Action Committee
Directed by James P. Byrne
Musical Direction by Mick Maldonado

On Wednesday October 1st I caught the preview performance of The Boston Rock Opera’s production of The Rocky Horror Show. (Note: it doesn’t say “Picture Show” because they wish to discern it from the film,) However the night I saw the work, it seemed an awful lot like the film.

Since it seemed an awful lot like the film one is left to ponder the relevance of the piece. It seems to be about crossdressing, murder, and rock and roll. All three (depending on your generation) are considered dubious, immoral, or illegal. However this spectacle makes it all out to be good fun.

I was never into the Rocky Horror Picture Show, but I did manage to attend the film about twenty times during the mid-to late eighties. One thing about the work, and the Boston Rock Opera’s production, is that it reminded me how good the music was. These are good, rockin’, catchy tunes, and everyone, both musician and singer alike did a capital job with the task.

The production is also very sexy (a good thing), right from the get go we were given a bit of a warning from Special Guest M.C. Ginger Vitus ( A rather outrageous drag queen) who implored us not to throw rice, water or toast onto the actors and to keep the “responses” in between lines. Not bad advice. Who knows what may happen on subsequent nights, but during this performance there were pockets of people who were “determined” to relive the Rocky Horror they knew, with all the memorized dirty interjections they could yell out. The company handled this quite well, one even wonders if they rehearsed in preparation for such the inevitable banter.

I suppose we could romanticize about the original London Production, but there really is no way to bring that back, the phenomenon of the film audience participation experience is what has kept this work alive. And for better or for worse (probably the worse), it shouldn’t be stifled. (except of course the projectiles, which may distract the talent)

copyright 1997 by Derek J. McClellan

Rocky Horrow Review – Krave Boston Style
Review and Interview by Scott Chesley

It’s time to add it all up, tally the score. Total the columns and take a look at where it’s really at. On this hand we have the nineties: Nirvana, Oasis, AIDS and Heroin’s latest coming out party, and … well, it kinda drops off after that. And over here we have the seventies (notice how we skip right over the eighties): New York Dolls, Kiss, Alice Cooper, the Ramones, Disco (?), Iggy Pop, Cheap Mexican Marijuana, and condoms that prevented pregnancy … Not contraction of a potentially deadly disease. To me it’s not much of an argument. Granted, I was twelve when I saw Kiss on the Love Gun tour, definitely a nudge over the edge for someone as prone to deviation as me. Be that as it may, for good clean All American twisted celebration and rebellion, it’s no contest. The seventies were the real sixties. Joy and deviation screwed for a few uninhibited years and no one cared. So what if Nixon, Ford and Carter didn’t get it on, they never would have made it into the back room at Max’s anyway.

With all that fresh and groping up your cortex, consider this: What’s cooler than a Kiss lunchbox? What’s more satiating than Johnny Thunders singing “Like a Rolling Stone” on the B-side of a British 45? What’s hipper than being BI-sexual? What’s hotter than Marv Albert at the Holiday Inn?……….. How about science teachers in red women’s panties? How about incestuous space aliens? How about leather thigh highs and fishnet stockings on a six-foot, hot bottomed all-American man?

Well the Boston Rock Opera’s 1997 presentation of The Rocky Horror Show had it all. And if it didn’t get you wondering where your sex life is really at then, well, drawers down to you. For those of you that caught the show, you know what I’m talking about, but for those of you that didn’t here’s a little explanation. Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show made it to the big screen in 1977, an out of left field musical starring Tim Curry and Susan Sarandon, that took equal parts seventies Glam rock, traditional musical styling and a healthy dose of good American free for all, and turned it into one of the all time cult-classic events of our time. There’s not an urban center in America where on any given Saturday at midnight you can’t find a screening of Rocky Horror. To me that speaks volumes about the inherent goodness of our American system

Here’s the basic story: our lovely, virginal newlyweds, Brad and Janet (David Ilku and Kaci Carr) become lost on a stormy night whilst on their way to see their science teacher, Dr. Scott (T.C Cheever), in whose class they fell in love. Just as the inconvenience of their plight becomes obvious, they spot a light in the old Frankenstein place, and in an innocent attempt to use the old castle’s phone they become sacrificial (and maybe even willing) playthings in the power struggle between the sweet transvestite Dr. Frankenfurter (Ryan Landry) and his loyal (?) extra-terrestrial servants, Magenta (Ticia Low) and Riff-Raff (Bill Hough). What transpires is a rollicking, raunchy and totally arousing tale of….. (in Ryan’s words,….”Sex, Sex, Sex”)

If you missed it, shame on you. This presentation of the Rocky Horror Show was the first time that the Boston Rock Opera has worked with the Aids Action Committee. Eleanor Ramsay, co-founder of the B.R.0, and the producer of this show had this to say to Krave, “This is the first time we’ve even tried to raise money for anybody, and it’s very difficult to do live theatre and raise money but we’re doing our best…. and they were happy too, just for the awareness, that was really important. They really felt by doing this show they could reach an audience that they’re really trying to get to…. which is a lot of young kids, teenagers and college kids who are just becoming sexually active, and they really want to reach those people, and felt that this was a really good vehicle for it…. A way to do it in a really fun environment.”

Fun is the operative word. With a few hilarious nods to safe sex, and a pre-show disclaimer assuring the audience that either a condom or dental dam was in use at all times, this show was about having fun. The B. R. 0. as always, more than compensated for their limited budget with inspired performances, and in this case, an ingenious set design featuring blood dripping staircases, a revolving life size coffin, and a fuilly operational space ship. When asked about the difficulties staging a show like this, Eleanor offered, “It was really tough because we felt, with Rocky Horror, if we were going to do it we needed to go over the top….Ryan (Dr. Frankenfurter) has been really one of the creative collaborators on the show. He did a lot of the set design. He had a vision of how he wanted to do it. (And) all our shows have come together because somebody with a strong personality really wants to put it on.”

So here on the Twentieth Anniversary of the prime of that often overlooked decade, it’s strangely appropriate and truly heartwarming that the Boston Rock Opera should stage a bawdy, brawny revival of a show that, to those in the know, has Never gone out of style. Now that the door’s been cracked open, my heart skips a beat when I consider the possibilities: Ziggy Stardust, School’s Out, or ( hold me please) even Lou Reed’s classic Street Hassle. Krave was fortunate enough to sit down with Ryan after one of the shows, and here’s what we talked about.

RYAN LANDRY Boston’s Last Glambassador ?

Q: First, it looks like you’re having a blast up there. As fun as it looks?

A: Oh, it’s more fun, I mean it’s that feeling when people respond the way they
do, it’s really wonderful. You know? This is my life, this is what I want to do and I’m very happy doing it. Yeah, it’s really great.

Q: When you were going through the audition process, was there a point when it came down to, “Alright Ryan you’re right for the part, now let’s see your ass?

A: No, No, they never checked out my ass. There was a controversy between two camps, in a friendly way, about if it was going to be for family, and I basically said “This can’t be for family, it’s not a family show.” This show is about incest, transvestites, blow jobs, sex … it’s just all sex, sex, sex. I’m not applauding some of those things, I’m just saying that they exist and that’s why I love this show, because it’s more real than people think.

Q: This is your first show with the B. R. 0, how did you get involved?

A: Well, I wanted to do a benefit for AIDS Action because thqy’ve been so good to me. So I was thinking of something that my old band Space Pussy could do because they were a really good band. They didn’t really want to do this show so I sought other people. Then Brian Welch (associate producer) and I became friends. Brian said, “oh we should do Rocky Horror”, and I said, “oh, what a great idea.” But to do it right we needed a bigger establishment with us. I mean where am I going to find the band, the whole thing? I had read about B.R.0 doing Jesus Christ Superstar (in which Van Halen’s Gary Cherone played the lead role, Jesus), and I liked what I read; it seemed like they had a new idea and it was exciting because there are a lot of great Rock Operas out there and things that haven’t been turned into Rock Operas that should be. I called Eleanor and she said, “Oh my god, I just had a dream about you last night.” It was really weird…..She had thought of someone else for Frankenfurter so I said, “at least try me out.” Things lead to things and I got the part. So it worked out like that. It’s been really great.

Q: You mentioned stuff that hasn’t been made into Rock Operas that should be, I was listening last night to Alice Cooper’s Schools Out….

A: Yeah, genius, genius. I mean, there’s lots of things that could be made into Rock Operas. You could take Dusty Springfield, “Dusty in Memphis” and do it if you wanted to. It really has to do with building a story around an album or in this case, taking a great story and a great soundtrack and making it your own in a stage production.

Q: Now, Tim Curry did such a great job with the role..obviously…

A: Oh my god..

Q: Was that something that you were thinking, “I’ve got to live up to his performance?”

A: I knew that I couldn’t. So I had to figure out ways I could make it my own, because I knew that they would laugh me off the stage if I tried to be Tim Curry or do what Tim Curry does … I mean, I’m not him. He’s great, he’s the greatest of all time.

Q: Tough act to follow?

A: Very tough act.

Q: What’s your favorite number in the show?

A: “I’m Going Home.” I just wish I could really sing it. I’m not really a singer, I’m more of a performer. I fake it, I don’t know what notes are. I don’t know how to read music. I don’t know a lot about music. I was in Space Pussy for two years and we were very popular but I think that was mostly because I was such a Nut Job. I think that’s what I love about the role, is that it’s real nutty. “I’m Going Home” makes me cry. I think of a lot of things when I do that.

Q: Are you still working with the guys from Space Pussy? I heard something about White Rock …

A: White Rock Fairy … Yeah, that’s a band that I have a couple musicians for, but I really want to get kick ass musicians and turn it out and make a real Boston Scene. I’m very into developing bands, along with my own band, in a scene situation which brings Boston back to where it should be. There was a time in the late seventies when Boston really ruled for Rock and Roll. A lot of people from Max’s,(Kansas city)-ed. All those glam rockers were coming here to hang out, and a lot of great bands like Human Sexual Response and others came out of Boston. I think that Boston is sort of lost in it’s own mire. There’s a lot of good bands out there but they’re really not together. I’d like to see a rock community, a Real rock community.

Q: Last thing Ryan, Space Aliens have tattoos?
A: Oh! Yeah, well I guess. I got this bruise on my hip from doing the drum dance…

Q: With the magnet?
A: Yeah, throwing myself around the stage, and you know, stage burn … it just takes all your skin and aargh … rubs it against the wood. So I had to put a heart around it because I didn’t want it to look like I had this big bruise for no reason. And my arm tattoo, I can’t really remove it so…… and, I like it.

Q: Well, I guess that wraps it up. Thanks
A: Thank you.

A rollicking, retro 'Rocky Horror Show'

A rollicking, retro ‘Rocky Horror Show’
By Joan Anderman, Globe Correspondent, 10/04/97

Consider what’s hip: 1970’s schlock-chic, nerds who sing, jocks in skirts, and high camp, which never ever goes out of style. Boston Rock Opera couldn’t have picked a better year for a revival of ”The Rocky Horror Show,” 1974’s sci-fi horror spoof that established a new zenith or nadir, depending on your taste, for kinky kitsch. Devotees dressed in outrageous drag still line up for famously interactive midnight screenings of ”The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

They weren’t lined up opening night at Tower Auditorium; the house was sparsely populated. But it’s a good bet the small, appreciative audience will spread the word about BRO’s thoroughly entertaining production, a benefit for the AIDS Action Committee featuring actors, musicians, and designers from the Boston arts community.

Whether you see it as some sort of stoned paranoid fantasy or a tongue-in-cheek calling card for sexual freedom, or prefer to contemplate the darker issues of repression and temptation suggested by the narrative, ”The Rocky Horror Show” belongs to the character of Frankenfurter. One can only imagine what he wears to breakfast, but on the cartoony, bloodstained set Ryan Landry embodied the ultimate Amazonian transvestite from hell: a dazzling mutant offspring of Marilyn Manson and Cher in a bouffant black shag, platform boots, tattered fishnets, G-string, bustier, and supermodel makeup. And this decadent specimen can sing his very visible butt off, like a big, nasty Broadway baby with a bona fide emotional subtext.

Like their master, the Transylvanians rule in this staging. From the irresistible ”Time Warp” to the bittersweet final ”Floorshow, ” Rocky Horror’s X-rated Greek chorus of Day-Glo freaks spewed an endearing mix of spunk and perversion that cuts to the soul of this show, which, with its plucky ’50s-style songs and fiendish themes, has always struck me as a Satanic reading of ”Bye Bye Birdie.”

Bill Hough (of the punk-glam band Garage Dogs) as the pasty, sunken-eyed servant Riff Raff was ghoulish grace-in-motion: limping and lurching with a dancer’s prowess and belting like a classically trained punk. The crack six-piece band was another highlight. Ingeniously tucked away in a screened dungeon under the castle stairs, they achieved that elusive state of refined and raucous rock-opera grace.

The Uber-goons Brad and Janet are significantly less colorful roles than the Transylvanians. But David Ilku (of The Dueling Bankheads comedy duo), and Kaci Carr (lead singer for the rock band Herod) demonstrated vocal and theatrical skills as understated and unassertive as their characters’ personalities.

Intermittent speaker buzz and problems with volume when the performers weren’t using their microphones were a distraction. Like its past productions of ”Jesus Christ Superstar” and ”Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” BRO more than made up for low-budget production values with high-octane performances.

This story ran on page C03 of the Boston Globe on 10/04/97. © Copyright 1997 Globe Newspaper Company.