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Special thanks to The Barn Theatre for allowing us to reprint this review.

August 1999


Waybill reigns supreme in Barn's 'Rocky Horror'

BY C. J. GIANAKARIS

SPECIAL TO THE KALAMAZOO GAZETTE



Each season, the Barn Theatre can be counted on to bring in big-name performers for some shows.  This year Fee Waybill, frontman for the rock group, The Tubes, was invited to star as Frank 'N' Furter in the glorious rock spoof "The Rocky Horror Show."

Director Brendan Ragotzy's casting choice proved brilliant, and Waybill's stupendous performance Tuesday night led an excellent ensemble in a superior production of "Rocky."

This staging of "Rocky" marks the fifth time Richard O'Briens's 1973 hit musical has played at the Barn since 1990, confirming its great popularity with local audiences.  Making this production especially hilarious and musically honest was the presence of comic performers who also could sing the show's music as it should be heard.    Audience participation brought high spirits into play, too, including cigarette lighters, saucy retorts to questions from the stage, and dancing in the aisles.

Waybill was the key to the show's success.  In his central role as master of the eerie castle - a role that kept him onstage nearly 100 percent of the time.   In the blazing transvestite part, Waybill displayed superb movement, acting and timing.   Simply moving about Dusty Reeds' and Brendan Ragotzy's stairs-dominated set demanded athleticism from Waybill in order to keep his 6-foot-4 inch self from toppling, particularly with very tall high heels.

Yet, above all, it was Waybill's consummate delivery of the rock numbers - in body movement and vocally - that made it a memorable night.  His numbers "Sweet Transvestite" and "Charles Atlas Song" were complete winners, among others.

Not that Waybill carried the show by himself.  Not a weak link existed in the production.  Scott Burkell evoked endless laughter as Riff-Raff, Frank's butler but really the chief alien who has invaded Earth.  Burkell's usually suave baritone voice here epitomized the swaggering, lusty-voiced rock singer.  Additionally, he conjured countless moments of hysterical stage business to regale the audience.

As Frank's synthetic love object, Rocky was magnificent as portrayed and sung by Eric Parker.  Parker presented the audience with a fabulously muscled physique and wild blond hair (compliments of wig and hair stylist Garrylee McCormick).  Although he had fewer numbers, Parker took full advantage of "The Sword of Damocles" and "Touch-A, Touch Me," belting them out with gusto.

The nerdy parts of Janet and Brad, the naive engaged couple who stumble upon Frank's castle of horrors, are well played and sung by Anjanette Hall and John C. Brown.    Their renditions of "Damn It, Janet" and Super Heroes" were fine.   Dan Black's Elvis-like singing as Eddie, a failed experiment of Frank's, was top-notch.  Howard McBride's echoes of Dr. Strangelove worked amusingly in his role as the stuffy scientist Dr. Scott.

Two other "servants' in Frank's household need mentioning.  Jennifer Kapitan as Riff-Raff's sister-lover Magenta added still more flair to the hyped-up evening.   Courtney Ell's Columbia was electrifying, both in song and acting.    Ell's petite frame lent dramatic contrast in her numbers performed next to the tall Waybill.  Nor dare we ignore the superb narrating efforts of Cain M. Bilbrey in a non-singing part.

Finally, the production elements had to be effective for such a campy show to work, and they were.  Ragotzy's direction resulted in perfect timing and meshing in the action -filled piece.  Choreographer Charlie Misovye somehow found fresh dance patterns to invoke, while music director David Jenkins led an almost flawless pit orchestra.   Sound director Aaron Morse and costumer designer Elaine Kauffman contributed their usual fine efforts.

 


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