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Theater review: Rocky Horror rains and shines at the Underground

Alec Schroeder, Anglea Valero and Matias Valero rehearse for "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" in 2013. They are among returning cast members in this season's show. File / News Tribune

Before actors took their marks and film hit the screen at the Duluth Playhouse Underground Halloween night, Zenith City Horror mastermind Alec Schroeder had half the audience on stage performing different sex positions.

Outrageous?

Of course! This is how audience "virgins" are introduced to their first live performance of the sexy, irreverent, B-movie send-up called "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

The stunt kicked off the Duluth-based company's eighth year of shadow acting the 1975 cult classic film and set the tone for a night of sleazy dancing, not-quite-Queen rock 'n' roll and well-rehearsed heckling from a sold-out crowd.

Raucous and rude audience participation has been central to "Rocky Horror" screenings around the world for decades, and Zenith City Horror capitalizes on this phenomenon.

Entering the theater, patrons are given a grab bag filled with party favors including a mini squirt gun, blow bubbles, noisemakers and a black glove. Two Trixies dressed in marching band uniforms provide party-favor instructions and demonstrate the proper technique for the "Time Warp" dance. And then the show starts.

Zenith City actors flood the stage as the original "Rocky Horror" film plays on a background screen. The audience is introduced to the cute couple Brad Major, shadow acted by Matias Valero, and Janet Weiss, shadow acted by Angela Valero, as they attend a wedding in Denton, the "Home of Happiness."

Audience members call Brad and Janet mean names and throw rice at the stage actors as the film rolls along and provides all the hilarious, stiff and dated dialogue.

Soon Brad and Janet are engaged and off on a drive into the stormy night. Their car suffers a flat and the couple must walk to the nearest house. Squirt guns and super-soakers douse the cast and audience as everyone shares in the wet journey.

The stranded couple stops at a foreboding castle owned by Dr. Frank N. Furter, a "transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania." The place is home to a cast of crazies dressed like a Victoria's Secret nightmare and partying full-tilt like it's 1979.

Just 10 minutes into the performance, the audience is up and dancing the "Time Warp" hard enough shake the theater risers.

Straight-laced Brad and Janet don't fit in with the party and find themselves in all kinds of scary, goofy and "pleasurable" situations.

For example, a play-acted elevator ride to the mad doctor's laboratory lands lots of laughs and a performance highlight features Brad singing a tender ballad. As Matias Valero lip syncs the Brad part surrounded by more than a dozen cast members who pile on top of him and turn the song into an orgy.

Both Matias and Angela Valero play their shadow roles to the nerdiest hilt. Still it's hard not to watch the original film, with a young Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick as they perfectly parody overwrought B-movie acting.

Schroeder, as the murderous and horny Dr. Frank N. Furter, is wonderful. In high heels and a black teddy, she's the biggest actor on stage but moves with grace and purpose and isn't afraid to show a little butt cheek.

Schroeder pantomiming Dr. Frank N. Furter's farewell anthem — bathed in flashlight — drew the biggest cheers of the night as the audience rained playing cards down on stage.

The evening's performance drew a standing ovation and left a mess of party props for the cleaning crew.

  • What: The Rocky Horror Picture Show
  • Where: Duluth Playhouse Underground, 506 W. Michigan St.
  • When: Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
  • Cost: $20
  • Online: duluthplayhouse.org/the-underground
  • Ticket proceeds go to support actors in need. The audience is advised to wear a raincoat and bring unwanted Queen of Clubs playing cards.