The strongest side of The Rocky Horror Show was never its original stage musical or the 1975 film adaptation, but its ardent audience, which turned an eccentric sci-fi sex spoof into an unforgettable interactive floor show. When I was in school, Rocky Horror's midnight showings gave misfits across the social spectrum the opportunity to show solidarity and come out (in more ways than one) during a more closeted era.
Thirty years after the film's debut, at a time of gay marriage debates and queer-friendly prime-time sitcoms, Rocky Horror's view of sexual inhibitions seems comically quaint. Just put some fishnet stockings on the squares, and everyone will live for the thrill. Dad's Garage Theatre's production of The Rocky Horror Show pays plenty of lip service to the cult film's unique showmanship but never brings it into the 21st century.
Rocky Horror creator Richard "Riff Raff" O'Brien wrote catchy pop melodies like "Time Warp" as well as astoundingly dumb dialogue and a plot that frequently strands the characters on stage. Fittingly, Geoffrey Brown makes transvestite mad scientist Dr. Frank N Furter at once queeny and macho, but as musical performers, the likable young cast isn't strong enough to elevate the dodgy material, and the material isn't strong enough to elevate the players.
The theater gamely gives the midnight movies their due by selling $2 audience-participation goodie bags before the show. When the crowd uses squirt guns to drench unhip Brad and Janet (Joey Ellington and Jessie Dean) during a "thunderstorm," the play taps into some genuinely spontaneous energy. Just as often, though, the audience seems uncertain how much to play along. Many cues for the movie's famous shout-outs went unanswered, but I heard one spectator practically reciting the script line by line.
The evening's freshest, funniest moment isn't even in the original play. Doyle Reynolds, as the mannered narrator, opens Act Two by crooning a Joan Jett song with both unabashed lust and an ironic wit unmatched by the rest of the show. Like the old-school Dr. Frankenstein, Dad's Garage assembles all the body parts, but seldom finds the spark to bring its creation to life.
The Rocky Horror Show plays through Oct. 22 at Dad's Garage Theatre, 280 Elizabeth St. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. $15-$23. 404-523-3141. www.dadsgarage.com.
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