ST. PETERSBURG — The Rocky Horror Show is ridiculous, and that is just what the doctor ordered for this year's edition of American Stage in the Park, which opened over the weekend on the downtown waterfront. Richard O'Brien's musical, which spawned the cult midnight movie, draws the audience into the show with a vengeance.
Saturday night, the sky was somewhat overcast, and a few minutes into the performance it felt as if it was starting to rain. But, of course, it was audience members taking aim with squirt guns (some of them pretty high-powered) at Brad (Jim Sorensen) and Janet (Alison Burns) as they made their way through the crowd to Frankenstein Place. The almost constant callbacks from the crowd can be funny, and they never get too overbearing, except for those directed at Steven Flaa's Narrator, who is besieged with shouts of "Boring!" every time he speaks.
Matt McGee brings a classic farcical sensibility to Frank N. Furter, less leering drag queen and more Shakespearean Fool. Decked out in black lace stockings, high-heeled boots, a leather corset and top hat with feather, he bears an alarming resemblance to Angela Lansbury. Sure, he's a raunchy sci-fi satyr in songs like Sweet Transvestite and I Can Make You a Man, but there's a surprisingly lyrical touch to his rendition of I'm Going Home, Frank's Judy Garland moment when he removes his wig and earrings to sing from the heart.
McGee delivers his dialogue with droll, muckle-mouthed wit, especially in his exchanges with straight arrows Brad and Janet ("What charming underclothes you both have on"). His complete and total commitment to goofiness manages to make the graphic sexuality of some of his scenes disarming, though they still might take some creative explaining to kids in the crowd.
In truth, Rocky Horror is not a great musical along the lines of, say, Rent or Hair, recent shows in the park. The first act is hard to beat, as the score moves seamlessly from one boffo anthem to the next, but the momentum tends to drift after intermission as exposition by the Narrator and Dr. Scott (Lulu Picart, who also plays Eddie and belts out his showstopper, Hot Patootie) bogs things down. Director Karla Hartley has done a smart job of disguising the show's weaknesses, and she has skillfully taken advantage of the outdoor setting, as when Riff Raff (the excellent Victor Chan, dressed like a pirate) sings his verse in Over at the Frankenstein Place from high atop a light tower. Domenic Bisesti's crisp choreography makes the Time Warp look like a cross between Soul Train and Swan Lake and the costumes by Trish Kelley have funky flair without slavishly imitating the movie.
In Act 2, each of the leads comes to the fore: Touch-a-Touch-a-Touch Me, in which Burns channels her inner stripper; and Sorensen's fine singing of Once in a While, Brad's big ballad. Meagan Nagy is a cute Columbia and terrific dancer. Ericka Womack-Brown is a gospel Magenta. Jose Urbino is pure beefcake in sequined briefs as Rocky. The usherettes/chorus members (Kelly Bostick, Joel Gennari and Georgia Mallory Guy) have beautiful harmonies.
Rocky Horror benefits from the best band in town, with music director/keyboard player Michael Raabe leading Paul Stoddart (guitar), Joe Grady (bass) and Burt Rushing (drums). These guys rock hard, and sound designer Kyle Easley deserves credit for a mix in which each instrument can be heard clearly. Steve Mitchell's huge set (three levels, three staircases, a ramp) incorporates all sorts of gizmos, such as a pulpit that doubles as a rocket ship. Joe Oshry's lighting design is the most effective to be seen in a park production, with the addition of computerized moving lights.
Don't forget to pack a sweater. It can get chilly on Demens Landing.
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716.