* Circle in the Square Theatre, New York City * Book, music, and lyrics by Richard OíBrien * Choreography by Jerry Mitchell * Directed by Christopher Ashley * Starring Tom Hewitt, Dick Cavett, Lea DeLaria, Joan Jett, and Daphne Rubin-Vega.

Itís hard to think of a cultural phenomenon that has done more to give comfort to the freaks of the world than *The Rocky Horror Show*, Richard OíBrienís 1973 rock-musical/ B-movie spoof about a sweet transvestite from Transexual Transylvania. The 1975 movie that amassed a cult following was a godsend especially to gay teens and college students. Getting stoned, slapping on some makeup, and mouthing the midnight-movie mantra ďDonít dream it, BE it!Ē provided a blast of glam-rock liberation from the hetero conformity that terrorizes most oddballs at that age.

Now on Broadway, where no idea is too overexposed to milk for a few more bucks, a savvy young producer named Jordan Roth has brought *Rocky Horror* back to the stage, and guess what? Itís a smart, fun, first-class revival. The Circle in the Square, which historically has housed the likes of Moliere, Shaw, and Tennessee Williams, has been turned into a club-like environment by hip-and-groovy restaurant designer David Rockwell. And director Christopher Ashley (best-known for both staging and filming Paul Rudnickís *Jeffrey*) has done his damnedest to create a fresh production thatís not a carbon-copy of the movie. To do so, he has assembled a bizarre cast of famous names including a now-bald Joan Jett as Columbia and Lea de Laria as her boyfriend Eddie -- who knew that even in *Rocky Horror*, the genders could be further bent? In addition, Dick Cavett as the narrator is on hand to ad-lib responses to the rowdier cultists (more on them later).

For those who never saw *The Rocky Horror Picture Show* -- and those who were too high to remember anything -- OíBrienís musical is framed as a campy, affectionate homage to corny sci-fi flicks from *King Kong* to *Forbidden Planet*. On a dark rainy night super-straight Brad and Janet get lost and take refuge at a spooky-looking castle inhabited by androids dressed as goth punks, presided over by Frank ĎNí Furter, a flaming queen whoís just created the muscle-hunk of his dreams in the laboratory. Thereís a twisted wedding, a palace rebellion, and of course the squares are initiated into pansexual pleasure, all to the beat of OíBrienís infectious score, crisply played by a five-piece real rock band.

In the role of fire-breathing drag queen that Tim Curry seemingly captured for all time in the movie, Tom Hewitt impressively manages to hold his own, playing Frank as a genetic hybrid of Mae West, David Bowie, and Joan Crawford. Jarrod Emick and Alice Ripley bring surprising dimension to Brad and Janet, as do Raul Esparza as Frankís assistant Riff Raff and Daphne Rubin-Vega as his sister-lover Magenta. Lea de Laria is amusing in boy drag though underutilized. Joan Jett not only gets to kiss both Daphne and Lea but plugs in her guitar for a few power chords, too. Sebastian LaCause looks pinup-perfect as Rocky but heís unable to muster even the minimal emotions the part requires. Nevertheless, the secret star of the show is choreographer Jerry Mitchell, whose dances are just as sexy and funny as those he created for *The Full Monty*.

Considering how much effort has been spent to make the show a fresh theater experience, itís weird to watch the cultists in the audience act out their own studied routines. Itís especially disturbing when they start throwing rolls of toilet paper at actors in six-inch heels teetering around a narrow runway. Itís odd to think that *The Rocky Horror Show* has created its own monster -- an audience that canít tell the difference between movies and theater.

Does *Rocky Horror* hold up as a gay liberation vehicle? Hmm, hard to say. Ashley updates a few things -- Frank ostentatiously uses condoms for sex with Brad and Janet, and among the toys he showers his lab specimen with is a Tinky-Winky doll. These days drag seems ubiquitous, not taboo, and Monica Lewinsky has made blowjobs safe for the front page. Sex is thoroughly acceptable as long as itís commodified these days. Still, wherever thereís a kid coming out in high school, thereís an audience that needs to hear, ďDonít dream it, BE it!Ē

The Advocate, January 16, 2001

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