REVIEW: Montana Actors’ Theatre rocks the house with “Rocky Horror Show”

REVIEW: Montana Actors’ Theatre rocks the house with “Rocky Horror Show”

Jay Pyette

October 31, 2009, by Joe Nickell, Missoulian

By the time actor Reid Reimers appeared on the stage of the Wilma Theatre on Friday night, the crowd was already primed for a party. The band was blazing, the lights were swirling, and a phalanx of actors was cavorting around the stage.

Still, nothing could prepare those in attendance for the moment when Reimers, his towering, 6-foot-6 frame pinched into a skimpy black boustier, dropped into the scene on a hydraulic platform atop six-inch platform shoes and began singing about sweet transvestites from Transsexual, Transylvania.

Fishnet stockings, stiletto heels and rock and roll: Friday night’s opening of “The Rocky Horror Show” at the Wilma Theatre was a coming out party for Montana Actors’ Theatre in more ways than one. And in the more typically staid world of local theatre, the raucous cheers from the near-capacity crowds that packed Friday’s first two performances will likely resonate in the local community for a long time to come.

“The Rocky Horror Show” is, of course, hardly your grandma’s theatre. Set to a classic rock-and-roll backbeat, the absurd and campy drama follows the adventures of two innocent lovers as they encounter a castle full of space aliens and phantoms, led by the sex-crazed mad scientist Frank N. Furter. The film version of the play stands as the longest-running cinematic release of all time, in no small part because of the brazenly effete acting of Tim Curry as Frank.

Yet in that same role on the stage of the Wilma, Reimers towered, both physically and figuratively, exuding virile, masculine dominance over his minions even through a mask of mascara and lipstick. Clearly, this wasn’t your uncle’s “Rocky Horror,” either.

MAT artistic director Grant Olson, who directed the show, said prior to its opening that he approached it more like a rock and roll concert than a stage play. With local band Reverend Slanky solidly rocking the instrumental parts directly in front of the stage, and with the crowd shouting out responses to the actors all along the way, Olson’s instinct felt right-on.

Unfortunately, audio problems plagued the opening performance, with several actors’ wireless microphones obscuring rather than amplifying the dialogue and song.

Fortunately, the commitment of the cast never flagged, with several performers shining brightly through the megaphone-like façade of amplification. As Frank’s sidekick Riff Raff, Jeff Medley lurched around the castle like a Martian inhabiting a foreign body, his hilariously exaggerated facial expressions practically obviating his need to speak. Kendra Syrdal bounced like a Playboy bunny as Frank’s jilted lover, Columbia, balancing the feline sexuality of Amy Lala’s Magenta.

And then there was Jason Fauntleroy in the role of Frank’s boy-toy creation, Rocky. Clad in nothing but a red Speedo and black Chuck Taylor tennies, Fauntleroy practically stole the show with the mere flexing of his astonishing abs.

When he first appeared on stage, the entire crowd gasped; one is not accustomed to seeing bodies as chiseled (and bare) as that, even in this fitness-loving town. The fact that he actually acted and sang with convincing conviction seemed almost too good to be true.

When, in the end, Reimers peeled off his wig to reveal his bald head and sang an emotionally naked rendition of “I’m Going Home,” one could understand his inclination to stick around a while longer with his human playthings.

Behind the scenes, MAT’s “Rocky Horror Show” was a big risk for the Havre-based company, which typically puts up small, low-budget performances at the Crystal Theatre – a space barely larger than the Wilma’s stage. With an investment of more than $22,000 in the two-night, four-performance production, MAT stood to lose much if “Rocky” went awry.

But by the time the curtain rose on Friday’s first performance, Olson said the cost of the production had been covered with ticket sales alone – and that didn’t count the long queues of people who bought their tickets at the door.

Moreover, the production marked a watershed moment in the local theatre scene, when enthusiastic crowds – more people than MAT performed for in all of its productions last year combined – witnessed a wild and untamed thing that, in significant ways, improved on the well-known film. Olson said he’d like to make “Rocky Horror” an annual Missoula tradition. I say: Let’s do the time warp again!

Montana Actors’ Theatre presents two final performances of “The Rocky Horror Show” at 8 p.m. and midnight tonight, Oct. 31, at the Wilma Theatre. Tickets are available online at MtActors.com, or at the door.

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