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Interactive Theater: RKO Army

November 9, 2014

Last night, I attended a double feature at the Olde Mistick Village Art Cinemas & Performing Arts Center.  The RKO Army performed Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and The Rocky Horror Picture Show with shadow casts.  For those who are unaware, “shadow casts” are performers who act out the movie while it’s playing in the background.  This is typically how people see Rocky Horror performed.  Although I’ve been to Rocky probably more than a hundred times, I don’t remember ever hearing this expression.  We always just said “Rocky Horror with a cast.”  Since my Rocky days, I’ve seen the play, The Rocky Horror Show, so now I choose my words carefully.  “The Rocky Horror Picture Show with a cast” is far more wordy than “Rocky with a shadow cast,” so I’ll probably use the latter from now on.

“With a shadow cast” may be common for Rocky, but not Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, or really anything else but Rocky that I know of.  So I was especially excited to see the first part of the performance.  The RKO Army, which I believe is based out of Providence, Rhode Island, did an admirable job with Joss Whedon & Family’s musical about a young man (Neil Patrick Harris) whose genius and disillusionment with the status quo, along with a healthy dose of narcissism, has led him on the path to becoming not only a villain, but a supervillain.  While he tries to win the attention of the infamous Evil League of Evil, his alter ego Billy tries unsuccessfully to overcome his shyness to woo the cute girl at the laundromat, Penny (Felicia Day).  When Billy accidentally introduces Penny to his nemesis, Captain Hammer, during a heist, his two worlds and personas collide.  RKO Army “soldiers” Zephyr as Dr. Horrible and JChris as Captain Hammer stole the show, with 13 as Penny starting out a little stiff then throwing herself into it.  The low point was Jon S.’s performance as Billy.  He had an “everyman” thing going on that doesn’t gel with Harris’s performance, in which the line between Billy and Dr. Horrible is very thin.

Between the two shows, the cast performs a “floor show” of their own.  At this show, they acted out “Rebel Yell” by Billy Idol, the entirety of “Thriller,” which was SO much fun, and did some version of “The Time Warp” I was unfamiliar with.  I was a little disappointed by the latter, though, because the cast was in costume, and I feel that takes something away from the audience’s authentic response to seeing the cast members–especially Frank–in costume.  It is one thing to see Tim Curry on the screen, iconic.  It’s another to see an actor in the garb.  Especially once we found out how many people were Rocky “virgins”–people who’d never seen the show in the theater.  Seeing Frank in person should be a “gasp!” moment.  It should happen in context.

After the traditional “devirginizing,” the cast then performed The Rocky Horror Picture Show with the most accurate costumes and props I’ve ever seen.  It was very impressive.  The performers themselves, however, did not bowl me over, except for the young woman playing Janet and the man playing Eddie, who were incredibly charismatic, especially compared to the rest of the cast.  I think it might be better for the actors to stop worrying about perfect authenticity so that they can loosen up. There were times you could see actors go into their heads to focus on perfect replications of movement, and as an audience member, I’d rather see them have a good time and not be perfectly synched up to the screen than perfectly synched but dropping character because of it. Still, it was a solid performance, and everyone there seemed to really enjoy it, myself included.  I’m looking forward to their expected return in December.  They say they’ll do Repo! The Genetic Opera, which I am absolutely unfamiliar with.  But given their passion and eye for detail, I’m in, no matter what.

I highly recommend that everyone who hasn’t seen Rocky Horror with a shadow cast do so, and the RKO Army creates a great atmosphere for it.  (I recommend to everyone who has seen it to see The Rocky Horror Show, the play that makes the story make a lot more sense than the movie.)  I’d like to see more interactive theater companies like this one, because Dr. Horrible was also a wonderful viewing experience.

Also, for my friends who haven’t seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show in a long time, I recommend a viewing as an adult.  It is a fascinating experience, and also great to bring up all the good memories we created back when.

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