My Thoughts: Sucky Horrid Picture Show
On Thursday night, Fox tv presented a "reinvented/reimagined/rebooted (?) version of the cult classic "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." I tried to watch with an open mind (after all, despite what a lot of people said about NBC's very first re-entry into airing musicals, I really liked "The Sound of Music." even with its flaws). Unfortunately, about just like everyone else I know who tuned in; I hated it. Actually, hate is too strong a word for the show; it was so bland that the best I could probably say is that I disliked it.
Full disclosure: I AM a big fan of the original. I can remember the first time I saw it in a movie theater (sadly now gone). I was a junior in high school and went with two good friends. If I recall correctly, we actually saw it on Easter! (Since the midnight showing put us into Sunday morning.) Then, later in college, I was part of a “troop" that performed regularly at the local movie theater. (I predominantly played Magenta, but covered a variety of different parts as needed during "our run." I have to say it was a great deal of fun speeding down the aisle in a wheelchair as Dr. Scott.) I have all the soundtracks (including the picture vinyl) and yes, even had a bootleg copy of the movie (until it was finally available for purchase on VHS...and then DVD). Pretty obvious that I know the show well.
Let's start with the good:
- Victoria Justice: Don't know who she is (which I guess shows how "out of it" I am), but she had a lovely singing voice.
- Reeve Carney: Was appropriately unnerving as Riff Raff (at least at the beginning of the show.) Has a decent set of pipes.
- Tim Curry: Ok, so obviously there were limitations here. The man had a stroke several years back and that was somewhat obvious (since all his scenes were headshots and there was no movement at all.). With that said, his droll, deadpan readings as the narrator/criminologist was spot on. And the little bit of singing that he was allowed to do at the end, showed that the man can still sing. (Why did he have to get cut off so quickly though? It was a great moment and ending, but it was over in a flash.)
The bad: Just about everything else.
I don't know Laverne Cox. (I READ "Orange Is the New Black" when it first came out. I have never seen the show.) I just didn't "get" her Frank. You don't have to do a Tim Curry impersonation (which seems to be the way most go), but if you want to go with a Tina Turner impression (which is what I got at the end of the show), let’s go with it all the way. (Or maybe that's what was being attempted with the back up singers and band?) The main problem I had (and this may have less to do with Laverne Cox's acting and interpretation and more to do with the direction) is that I was never frightened by Frank. I never saw any sexual tension between characters. (This may be part in parcel with having to tone the show down for prime time viewing...which seems to me to be a big part of the problem. The show is NOT prime time material and presenting it as such just makes it bland.) And I certainly didn't feel anything at the end (spoiler??) when Frank sings "Going Home" and then dies.
I LOVE Ben Vereen. Really! I think it's a damn shame that we've never gotten a full cast album from the original Broadway run of "Jesus Christ Superstar." From the "best of" album that exists, its' obvious that he gave a powerhouse performance and I wish I could hear more. (Heck I wish I could have seen the production!) His talent was wasted here. And also confusing; everything else was so glam and overdone, why was he stuck with the bad wig?
Annaleigh Ashford is an incredible talent. As a matter of fact, her role as Betty on "Masters of Sex" is one of the reasons why I keep watching. (And her performance in last week's episode had me in tears.) She can certainly sing and tap dance, but I was constantly distracted by her blue tongue (which she was always sticking out) and her screams. I liked her take on Columbia when I could focus on the character but the distractions were too many.
The pacing of the show was too rushed. Everything flew by. Take a look at the movie, it is slow and at times uncomfortably quiet. There is time for audience participation in those silent moments. Not so here where it felt like the cast was always sprinting for the next scene. Perhaps someone should have paid more attention to Columbia's line: "Slowly, slowly it's too nice of a job to rush."
The glamour of the show was over the top. Everyone looked perfect; maybe better than perfect. For me, part of the "charm" of the show was the nitty gritty. It's not perfect; it's not supposed to be. Frank isn't glamorous; he's a glammed up wreck. Everyone in the cast is a wreck in their own way. Fishnets are torn, the glasses on the "table" during the dinner scene are mismatched. There was something to this in the original film. There was something scary in the movie when Frank first made his entrance; there was nothing scary in this version.
Which brings me to the title. It's supposed to be Rocky HORROR. The movie may have been camp, but there were moments of discomfort if not actual horror. Case in point for; the first time you see the film and see Frank for the first time. Truly an uneasy, heart pounding moment where you are not sure what to expect. (The thump of music just adds to the antici...
pation. Or when Riff opens the door to Brad and Janet. Or the unnatural closeness Riff and Magenta had. (Oh, that creepy arm to arm move!) Or even when Rocky is first revealed. (What was going to come out of that tank?) There was no Horror in this version. There was not anything even close.
The original movie is in no way perfect. But its flaws are part of its charm. That's part of what brought about the audience participation. Which make me wonder WHY they had fake audience participation. I got the opening where Trixie, the usherette, sang and brought everyone into the theater. (This was actually kind of clever.) But once we are "in" the movie we should be in the movie. The occasional pans to the audience so we could see their participation fell flat for me. If there's going to be audience participation then it needs to be throughout the WHOLE show. It has been suggested that this version might have done better by being performed in front of an audience (not necessarily airing live though) so that the "theater audience" could interact with the show. That might have been something worth watching.
If this production was an attempt to introduce a new audience to a cult classic, in my opinion it failed. If it were my first time, I'd be thinking: So what? What's the fuss about this? The fact is there WASN'T much fuss about it. There was no excitement. It was the worst thing it could be: BLAND. It was missing "that elusive ingredient...that spark that is the breathe of life...ITSELF!" If you want to try and go find it; get yourself to a midnight showing of the original movie where the unkempt, nitty gritty, down and dirty, non-sanitized, flaw filled and raunchy rock and roll will have you doing the time warp in the aisles.