Halloween is upon us, and to get us in the mood, two infamous supernatural sex-comedies are currently haunting 6th Street Playhouse. Both plays are crammed with witty retorts and sexual innuendo, both feature ghostly visitations and eye-popping fashions—but only one has the Time Warp and a guy dressed in fishnet stockings.
Let’s start there.
Richard K. O’Brien’s infamous musical The Rocky Horror Show—playing at 6th Street for its third consecutive year—manages the impressive magic trick of transcending its own quirky script deficiencies. Under the direction of Craig Miller, the production employs a kind of theatrical misdirection, distracting audiences from the fact that the story of Rocky Horror is a bit of a mess, by turning the whole show into one joyously raucous, sex-positive “event,” complete with cross-dressing costume contests at the intermission, and a rowdy post-show dance break in which the audience is invited to Time Warp with the cast.
Assisted by musical director Justin Pyne, whose magnificent rock band is spot-on perfect, this is a Rocky Horror that brings enough high-spirited fun to outweigh the loony flaws of the story, and additional credit for that should definitely go to the fearless commitment of its cheerfully extroverted cast.
As Dr. Frankenfurter—the not-so-sweet transvestite from outer space—Rob Broadhurst unleashes a torrent of high-heeled, pelvis-thrusting glee, and Zach Howard rocks hard as the duplicitous butler Riff Raff.
Mark Bradbury and Abbey Lee, as the virginal visitors Brad and Janet, do fearless, first-rate work in the show’s trickiest roles. And nice supporting performances are given by Rose Roberts as the conflicted groupie Columbia, a delightful Zac Schuman in the dual roles of delivery boy Eddie and his government agent uncle Dr. Scott, and Amanda Morando as Riff Raff’s dry-witted sister Magenta.
Though haphazardly paced, and plagued with some opening night technical issues, this Rocky Horror succeeds, big time, by brazenly showing it’s true colors—From beginning to end, this is one big dark-humored dance party disguised as a play.
After three years, all I can say is, Let’s do the time warp again.
On to Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, a drawing comedy that was the Rocky Horror of its time, the story of a milquetoast writer haunted by the ghost of his manipulative first wife while struggling with the passive-aggressive machinations of his second.
Directed by Meghan C. Hakes, the 6th Street version delivers visually—with a great set and some very entertaining ghost effects—but it totally misses the mark in terms of its tone and rhythm. Hurt by its tentative pace and some wildly uneven . . . often unintelligible . . . English accents, the show takes what might have been a bracingly tasty martini and turns it into a rather diluted cocktail of clashing, but still slightly fizzy, soft drinks.
Despite fine, engaging performances by David Yen as optimistic author Charles, Gina Alvarado as the ghostly femme fatale Elvira, and Lennie Dean as the well-meaning medium Madam Arcati, the production woefully miscalculates the underlying point of the play—which can’t be described without spoiling key second-act surprises—resulting in an ending is a strangely disappointing clash of contrasting ending, on that’s visually magical and the other that is suddenly, unexpectedly un-fun.
‘Blithe Spirit’ and ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ run Thursday–Sunday through November 8 at 6th Street Playhouse. www.6thstreetplayhouse.com