Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Time Warp. Again.

October 03, 2011

Matt McGrath in The Rocky Horror Show Photo: Henry DiRocco 2011
The Old Globe Theater continues to press forward with new work and home-grown revivals as is its wont this season. The fall is underway in Balboa Park with two new offerings that showcase some of the ambitions of San Diego’s largest theater company. Probably the most talked about show of the fall south of Los Angeles is the revival of Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show, which opened up just over a week ago. The show grabbed headlines before it reached the stage after both its original lead and director were jettisoned for reasons political and artistic. Oddly enough, to see the final product a week into its run shows little damage from such contortions. The star, Matt McGrath, seems ideal as the diabolical transvestite Frank 'N' Furter. (The new director for the record is James Vasquez who replaced Oanh Nguyen two weeks before performances.) McGrath's is a little less glam rock and a bit more kinky of a performance compared to the one that most will be familiar, that of Frank 'N' Furter's originator, Tim Curry. But McGrath manages to obliterate those intrusive comparisons. He’s surrounded by a lovely enthusiastic cast including Jason Wooten as Riff Raff, Laura Shoop as Magenta, Kelsey Kurz as Brad, and Jeanna de Waal as Janet. They all work hard to keep the energy level fierce and moving forward through this packed, brisk show.

But even though last minute artistic decisions may not wreck the show, it doesn’t mean that everything comes off despite the above strengths. The performance I saw was plagued with a variety of sound problems early on. But more problematic than this is the source material itself. Rocky Horror, despite its cult status, has never been a bonafide, out of the box hit on either stage or screen at least here in the U.S. The show’s M.O. is usually to flop and then live on like some zombie gathering steam in the after life. The charm of both the film version and the live show has always come from the sense of community experience the show engenders in its repetition. The costumes, the shouted responses, the props—all of these add up to something that is much greater than the sum of the show’s farcical but crumbling, nonsensical plot. And while the show can rock, as it certainly does at The Old Globe, the performance that may count most in the show is that of the audience. Presenting Rocky Horror in a large theater like The Old Globe engenders a diverse audience that is not completely in on that community experience. And if the newbies outnumber the initiated, the shouted responses to the actors on stage may seem odd and some of the funniest jokes go missing. As is currently the practice for theatrical revivals for Rocky Horror, the theater sells “participation bags” filled with approved props for the audience members. And while that encourages safety and makes for an easier clean up, it doesn’t make the show pop and zing like it can. Still the cast goes a long way to sell this sexy campy material, and I found McGrath’s performance alone worth seeing.

Leo Ash Evens as Jamie MacRae and Jon Rua as Alejandro Candelaria Photo: Henry DiRocco 2011
Across at the White Theater was the world premiere of Matthew Lopez’ Somewhere. The title refers to the famous Leonard Bernstein song from West Side Story. The musical and the eventual filming of that show serves as a backdrop to Lopez' play about a family with dreams of fame in New York City in the early 1960s. That Puerto Rican family, the Candelarias, have just been evicted from their apartment in the wake of the urban development project that will destroy their neighborhood to make room for the Lincoln Center. It’s the same neighborhood that serves as backdrop for Bernstein’s musical, although the action in Somewhere resides entirely inside the Candelaria’s apartment. The dancing is still there, though, in that all of the Candlaria clan, Inez and her three children Alejandro, Francisco, and Rebecca, are brimming with dreams of fame and artistic endeavor. Lopez mixes the scenes of the play with elaborate dance numbers for everyone in the cast, many evoking the choreography of Jerome Robbins, who serves as a Godot-like figure in the story.

Sadly the structure beyond this is pretty predictable. Will Alejandro who has buried his dream to be a dancer on Broadway be able to drag his family into reality long enough to avoid the wrecking ball when his mother refuses to leave their condemned building? Will the family ever be able to face the truth that the father has abandoned them for a better life in California? The show is predictable and formulaic despite lyrical moments that are meted out so slowly that the 2 hours and 45 minutes of the show feel much longer. The performances are nice, though. Everyone gets to dance here including Priscilla Lopez as Inez, and a wonderful Jon Rua as Alejandro. Leo Ash Evens is the more successful friend of the family, Jamie, who has a wonderful if inexplicably platonic duo number with Alejandro. Lopez' Somewhere seems happiest when it's dancing and there is thankfully a lot of it in this otherwise slow, undercooked play.


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