Director Andrew Rasmussen gets this much right in his production of "The Rocky Horror Show," which opened Thursday at the Lab Theater in Minneapolis: it's an event.
The first feature on this bill is Don Shelby's coming-out party. Announcing himself a closeted thespian, the longtime TV news anchor wears his celebrity easily, rather than pretending he's just another actor playing the role of the Narrator. It's a gimmick, and Shelby let's us know he's in on it -- right down to his motorcycle ride and closing revelatory moment. It's a smart choice to let Shelby be Shelby.
This catchy sideshow notwithstanding, there is a play to be performed -- a campy spoof that endures on the legs of Richard O'Brien's hook-filled songs and the zest of a cast willing to get crazy. Rasmussen gets a big, sweaty performance from Andre Shoals as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the high-heeled transvestite eager to bed anything with two legs and a heartbeat. Shoals didn't hit his stride right off on Thursday night -- unfortunate given how important Frank's "Sweet Transvestite" entrance is to the play. Too, he never quite got to the character's insouciant panache, but Shoals' voice and sheer physical presence established his place.
Erin Capello is a winning Janet, possessed of a sweet baby-girl voice that turns breathy and raunchy in her anthem of sexual awakening, "Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me." Capello commits herself to the play's absurdity -- with flirty innocence -- and still has a wink for those absolutely essential audience shout- outs. Reid Harmsen has the same good sensibility as Brad, Janet's hapless and gawky boyfriend.
Rasmussen's staging fills the Lab Theater space with sound, lights, fog and a proscenium arch that effectively takes us inside a faded cinema. The choreography is rudimentary but active. Randy Schmeling's Riff Raff, Kat Perkins's Columbia and Molly Callinan's Magenta sing as if this were a rock concert -- which fits perfectly with Raymond Berg's musical arrangements and scorching band.
This big, unsubtle approach defines the production's ambition as a "happening." Left behind, though, are some of the colorful details that make "Rocky Horror" such a delicious guilty pleasure. Callinan comes at us full throttle in the opening number, "Science Fiction/Double Feature," a song built on wistful and airy nostalgia. By running everything at such high volume, Rasmussen sacrifices the nuance that feeds camp. How is "Time Warp" supposed to stand out in this atmosphere? It doesn't.
All this makes "Rocky Horror" something to watch, rather than feel. It is undeniably entertaining -- and if that guy in the audience who kept shouting out priceless interjections isn't on the payroll, he should be. The play itself has been shoved a bit to one side, which is unfortunate. But the chance to see Don Shelby in fishnet stockings? That's worth something.