Let’s do the time warp again!

‘Rocky Horror (Puppet) Show’ by Zoot Theatre

By Jacqui Theobald

 Photo: [l to r] Beth Conley and Ray Zupp star in Zoot Theatre Company’s production of “Rocky Horror (Puppet) Show”; photo: The Zoot Theatre Company

The people in the front row were bouncing to the beat of the music and to their own nostalgic memories. “Rocky Horror” has a built in appeal for those who loved the cult classic of their younger years. Zoot’s version opened at the Dayton Art Institute last weekend to cheers and a standing “O” from the devotees.

Those who came expecting puppets to predominate may be a bit disappointed. The stars in this production are the live, multi-talented cast bringing to the stage a faithful interpretation of the mid- ’70s parody of old science fiction mixed with B-grade horror movies.

Tristan Cupp, the creative drive of Zoot, explained: “The show represents part of the company’s goal of proving that puppets are not just for children. The plan for our first musical never included having the entire show done by singing and dancing puppets. The three robot-like body puppets in the show represent Frank ‘N’ Furter’s failed experiments, now phantoms that he keeps around.”

For those unfamiliar with the plot, admittedly a little thin, the story begins with Janet and Brad, a young couple with a flat tire on a rainy night, stumbling into a nearby castle. It belongs to Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter a “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania.” He says he has discovered the “secret to life itself” and is creating perfect people, or trying to, and has brought Rocky to life. There is a collection of weird characters, the Annual Transylvanian Convention meeting in the castle. The night is an orgy of various couples having sex (simulated), chases, dismemberment and enormous phallic ray guns transforming people into statues.

It may be best to enjoy the music, the energy and the terrific performances. This is not a think piece requiring vast insight.

The show is well cast and directed by John Fass as if these young performers were born to their roles. Many are from Wright State’s Musical Theatre program, reflecting their thorough preparation and training.

JJ Parkey is Dr. Frank. He sings, he dances – in stunningly high heels – he prances and leers. Is it possible to bring real life to an alien spoof? Parkey has done it. He wears his “classic” transvestite minimalist costume, both the clothing and the character, with aplomb.

It wouldn’t be believable for Rocky, the perfect man, played by Riley Able, to look the part any more than he does. He is also convincingly ingenuous as he discovers language, himself and the world around him, with gentle amazement. He, too, manages those golden heels comfortably, the perfect mate, dancing into the bizarre world at the castle.

Beth Conley as Janet opens the show in a pink glow of naiveté, expresses surprise at how much she enjoys losing her virginity in the second act and is a strong singer and dancer throughout the show. Ray Zapp as Brad is shocked and shy, then involved. Credited as Set Designer, he worked on some puppets, too. Certainly multi-talented, he does all tasks well.

Bringing both puppeteer skills and dramatic interpretation to the Narrator, Andrew Ian Adams explained things, as much as is possible.

The fans of the old movie have their favorites and happily acknowledged each character’s entrance.  Riff-Raff (played in the movie by playwright O’Brien) is Matt Zanfagna. Eddie (Meat Loaf in the movie) is Natalie Houliston. She also plays Dr. Scott, in a wheel chair. She said: “We are called to be bold.” Yes.

There are so many technical details and such a large cast that it’s impossible to acknowledge all the deserving talent. Fass is both Director and Music Director. “Wearing two hats,” he said, “is an awesome responsibility and left me consulting with myself.” Apparently it was a successful conversation. He has achieved a lively, beautifully blocked and paced homage to this show that he admittedly has long loved. If the performances are over the top, it’s by design.

Having a six-piece live band in the pit in this era of economy is a real asset. “The music is loud,” Tina McPhearson, chair of Zoot’s Board of Directors, announced. Be forewarned, but not surprised. Edward Wooten conducts and plays keyboard.

Choreographer Shawn Storms (Remember her as Gary Coleman in the Human Race’s “Avenue Q”?) has managed the 16-member cast with energy and a creative nod to the original’s ’70s dance style. What a talent!

Those “traditional” costumes are wonderfully wild. Costumer Designer Ayn Wood’s perfectly fitted choices extend the ambiance and apparently allow the actors to move with sufficient freedom.

Lighting Designer John Renzel, modest as always, has a great opportunity to express himself with every light the somewhat limited power of the DAI’s facility. From strobe effects mounted high on a tall framework to old-fashioned footlights, he provided atmosphere.

That brings us back to sound: Zoot staff Sound Designer and engineer J. Gary Thompson made sound appropriate for the show, although it may not suit every ear. He, too, is challenged by the limitations of power presently available in the beautiful old DAI theatre.

The Zoot Theatre Company presents “The Rocky Horror (Puppet) Show” Oct. 25–27 and Nov. 1–3. Midnight show on Saturday, Oct. 26. For more information, please call 937.512.0140 or visit zoottheatrecompany.org.

 Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com 


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Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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