Joan Jett and The Blackhearts Bad Reputation Nation
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"Warning: Do not throw stuff at the stage!" reads the sign to patrons descending into the Circle in the Square's lobby, decorated with faux stone walls, red lighting and vendors hawking $10 "Audience Participation Bags." The bags contain a flashlight (no lighters or water pistols please), confetti, feather boa and even a condom. It's clear we're not talking Miss Saigon here. Distinguished designer David Rockwell's macabre motif continues throughout this latest production of The Rocky Horror Show, the most exquisite and expensive ever. Trance beats pulsate and beams of brilliant light illuminate expectant faces in the crowd. Two hours, sixteen songs, and one floorshow later, after the reprise of "Science Fiction Double Feature," there's nary an unsatisfied creature of the night in the debris-strewn theater.

For those who've never thrown rice at the midnight movie or yelled "slut!" at a shivering celluloid Susan Sarandon, The Rocky Horror Show, which debuted on stage in London in 1973, has since transformed into the ultimate cult film. Devoted fans, for whom Halloween comes once a week, dress in the fishnets, sequins or hunchback of their favorite character, sing and dance in the aisles and loose track of how many Friday nights they've spent acting like Ziggy Stardust's worst nightmare. The Broadway version has been slyly revised to reflect concerns about safe sex among other things (Frank 'N' Furter gleefully tosses a condom over his shoulder after each successful seduction).

Story has never been the show's strong suit. And some things never change. What little there is of a plot is about a nerdy couple whose car breaks down one frightful night and the eerie, erotic misadventures they endure in the kinky castle of Transylvanian transvestite Frank 'N' Furter (played to the spike-heeled hilt by Tom Hewitt). As bad luck and taste would have it, Brad Majors (Tony Award winner Jarrod Emick) and Janet "Damn It!" Weiss (a very adequate Alice Ripley) have come inside the castle on a special night. (As if any of the nights are normal around the ol' Furter place.) Brad and Janet are introduced to a ghoulish gallery of Frank 'N' Furter's followers, including a butler named Riff Raff (played with the requisite relish the character commands by Raul Esparza), who turns out to be more master than servant by the show's end.

After a few rounds of "The Time Warp," a "folk dance" involving much pelvic thrusting and jumps to the left and right, Brad and Janet meet their nefarious nylon-clad innkeeper, Frank 'N' Furter, who is at last ready to bring to life his latest creation. It's the ultimate toy for a corseted Ken who'd rather be Barbie: a platinum blond, perfectly tanned, muscle man named Rocky (Sebastian LaCause shines out and is a sure thing if they start giving out Tonys for "Best Pecs"). In true horror-film fashion, Rocky shuns his creator and flees into the depths of the castle, only to emerge in the second act as Janet's object of desire, to the toe-tapping tune of "Touch-A-Touch-A-Touch Me." Meanwhile, Frank 'N' Furter's heart is crushed flatter than the pancake in his makeup. He goes on to seek hormonal happiness in contorting both Brad and Janet into the most compromising carnal positions possible without throwing one's back out.

By now, we're halfway into the second act and, unfortunately, the good times start rolling less quickly as the plot thickens to the point of suspended animation. What eventually transpires involves androids, a transit beam, and the castle blasting off into outer space. The production values, however, remain stellar throughout the show's confusing conclusion and the ending seems happy enough, even if you aren't sure exactly what happened.

Notable in the cast is JOAN JETT as the coquette Columbia, the part that in the Rocky Horror movie made a star of Little Nell who tap danced her way into 15+ minutes of fame that she later parlayed into a successful nightclub bearing her name. Obviously Jett wouldn't be caught dead doing anything as girlish as tap dance, so she's allowed to play her guitar instead, which adds an extra degree of rock 'n' roll authenticity to a show that even John Waters would call a little "campy."

Also worth mentioning, at least for the '70s connection he brings to the table, is former talk-show host Dick Cavett in his role as the show's narrator. This too was a departure from the traditionally less-wisecracking casting of the original character. Dick opens the first and second acts with comic monologues that are as dry as his native Nebraska and would seem more at home on "The David Letterman Show." How much of his material is spontaneous and how much is repeated nightly is anyone's guess. And at $79.50 a ticket, few know for sure.

The majority of pretty things going to see this show know what they're getting and have never gotten it better. For the most part, the performances and production are equally entertaining and extravagant. True fans of transvestite science-fiction rock-n-roll comedy won't find anything on Broadway offering a greater degree of ultimate pleasure than The Rocky Horror Show. Don't dream it; see it.
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