Penobscot Theatre Company is ending its 40th season with a glittery, raunchy romp accented with leather, feathers and very high heels that had theatergoers heckling, singing, dancing and flashing tiny lights above their heads on opening night. Some audience members, especially those at the late show, dressed like they belonged on stage.
That is what’s supposed to happen at “The Rocky Horror Show,” the 1973 rock musical that was adapted on celluloid two years later as “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and became a cult classic. PTC’s production was practically perfect, even though it was delayed for 30 minutes due to the activation of a fire alarm, early Saturday night.
The weren’t any flames found but the band and cast of “The Rocky Horror Show” was smoking hot once the show, directed and choreographed by Nathan Halvorson, started. A talented production team transformed the Bangor Opera House into a haunted castle occupied by Dr. Frank ’N’ Furter, “a sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania,” his minions and his creations, who prefer tight-fitting leather and spangles to Victorian lace and rags.
People don’t need to have seen the film to enjoy the musical, but it helps to have seen a lot of B science fiction and monster movies made in the 1950s and ’60s. That’s what Richard O’Brien, who wrote the books, music and lyrics for the show, was spoofing. Hence, a mad scientist or two, a naive, lost, newly engaged couple and UFOs figure prominently in the thin plot.
Halvorson has cast the cream of the local talent pool. Heather Libby as Magenta, Brianne Beck as Janet, Christie Robinson as Columbia, Justin Chamberlain as Riff Raff and Jordan Lorenz as the sculpted Rocky all give fantastic performances and a depth to the characters the author may not have intended. Two men, in particular, stand out.
With his head shaved and his eyes heavily made up, Dominick Varney dominates the stage as Frank ’N’ Furter in a leather bustier and 6-inch, high-heeled black boots. Varney brings a high-flying energy to the insane scientist that is maniacally hysterical. It is almost impossible to believe he’s the same actor who played the ingenue Brad in the University of Maine’s 2002 production of the show.
It is tough to steal the spotlight from Varney, especially when he’s channeling his inner diva, but Ira Kramer manages to do it in what is intended as the milquetoast hero Brad. Kramer did the same in PTC’s holiday production of “Cinderella: A Retelling of an Old Tale” as the Prince and in UMaine’s production of “Grease” as Danny Zuko. What Kramer brings to the role is heart, depth and a charisma on stage that demands attention, along with a stunningly strong tenor voice.
While the acting, songs and music, under the direction of Phil Burns, make this probably the best production presented since Bari Newport took the artistic director reins, it would not be half as effective without Lex Liang’s set and costumes or Jonathan Spencer’s lighting design. Their sometimes outrageous visual vision for the show is what gives it pizazz.
People who might be offended by gender-bending men decked out in glitter, feathers and leather thrusting their pelvises at the audience or scenes of safe sex portrayed in silhouette should stay home. “The Rocky Horror Show” is more “Hair” than “Sweeney Todd” and removed by light years from “The Sound of Music.”
It is, for those who attended even one midnight showing of the film dressed in costume, a way to recapture two hours of youth. And it’s the perfect way to celebrate 40 seasons dedicated to the magic of theater in the Queen City.
“The Rocky Horror Show” will run through June 28, with performances set for 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 5 and 10 p.m. Saturdays; and 5 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $25, but there will be a limited number of $10 student rush tickets available at the box office one hour before each show. The show is recommended for mature audiences.