August 10th, 2011
Rocky Horror Picture Show: Beautiful Creatures and Midnight Madness
Houstonians are freaks, but our freakishness is special. We are not like the Los Angelinos, who strive for it 24/7, nor are we New Yorkers, who desperately try to convince themselves that oddity is the height of fashion. We Houstonians know when our eccentricity can be used to maximum effect, like a city populated by Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Awesome. Nowhere is this more evident than the venerable River Oaks Rocky Horror Show put on by the Beautiful Creatures every month.
From start to finish, the show is polished in a way that only a midnight Rocky show can be. Although, perhaps “polished” isn’t a word that applies to Rocky. “Ghoulishly fun” might be more apropos. Most of the actors have clearly been doing the show for a long time and take the opportunity to screw around whenever they can. Case in point, this month’s Rocky theme was Tiki Night, which meant that the preshow involved a hula dance with a recalcitrant woman in a corset and an enthusiastic man in naught but a speedo and tennis shoes. Although I understand the trepidation of a woman in lingerie to dance around like a fool, if you can’t dance around in your underwear at a Rocky Horror show, when can you? Thankfully, the antics of her male counterpart easily made up for her anxiety.
Foss, who seems to be the emcee of the show in that he is old and loud, is the ideal front man. Before the movie started, he paraded around, Shiner in hand, to tell the audience the rules and traditions of the show. This function is doubly important because many of the audience members are virgins (please don’t make me explain the term; its meaning should be obvious). Unlike most Rocky shows, the River Oaks show did not involve hurling all manner of disgusting items on virgins before the show starts. Purists may scoff at the lack of hazing, but it’s probably better for everyone involved (especially the cleanup crew) that this “tradition” was left out. However, Foss was kind enough to verbally rib some virgins sitting in the front rows, so if you’re a Rocky veteran whose life is not complete until virgins have been molested, you will still be sated.
The rest of the crew is similarly talented and practiced. They know the whole show in and out and recover from any minor mishaps easily. Occasionally, they are jerks to each other, which leads to playful sparring, but that usually happens when your attention should be elsewhere anyway. Initially, I wanted to highlight some of the more exceptional crew members, but then I realized they were all far beyond anything I expected, and I have been to quite a few Rocky Horror shows over the years. Similarly, their makeup and costuming are great. Some of the corsets and garter belts even made me want to wear women’s clothing. I might complain that there were very few flashes of naughty bits, but that’s probably just because I’m a licentious rake. People with things like morals and shame will probably consider the relative lack of accidental nudity a highlight.
It pays to get to the theater early because the front rows get full view of the crew’s antics and can occasionally hear the crew ribbing each other. However, don’t sit in the very front row. That row is apparently reserved so the crew can move around unimpeded. Several people sat in this row before the show and were visibly upset when they were told that they needed to move. Conversely, the second row has a high chance of being crawled on, having water thrown at them, and shaking hands with large men in fishnets. If that’s not your thing, the middle rows might be a better seating choice, but who are you kidding? Your life is hollow and meaningless without the loving caresses of strangers in corsets and fishnets. If you’re hoping to be manhandled by the crew but show up a bit later, the aisle seats are a good alternative to the second row, especially if you are scantily clad or bald (don’t ask).
The only real problem I had with the show was the group of upstagers who came in costume and decided to sprint through the aisles at inopportune moments. To them I say: it may not look like it, but the Beautiful Creatures work hard to put on an entertaining show. It’s one thing to play along, but it’s another thing entirely to usurp that audience’s attention. Interrupting the show for a modicum of recognition is childish at best. That would be like going to a ballet performance and– yo dawg, Imma let you finish and your writing is great and all but my writing is the best writing of all time and I think everyone needs to know that– would make the dancers hate you.
The audience participation in the show is not quite as polished as some other Rocky performances, but that’s to be expected for crowds nearing 400 people. The common audience script bits were still in evidence, but the more obscure ones often degenerated into an unintelligible mess as dozens of people yelled over each other while the virgins were generally overwhelmed and mumble things a few seconds after they heard them. There were also miscues that involved a handful of audience members all yelling the same thing one after another. Foss and other crew members help out with the audience lines sometimes, but they usually only did a few of their favorites. As always, the best time to make a verbal contribution was by interrupting one of the short windows of silence with a funny quip. I’d recommend going to a few shows before you try this though because until you’ve experienced hundreds of people, some of whom were alive when the movie came out, yelling at a screen, you really can’t understand how rowdy it is.
And that is an excellent description for the entire show: rowdy. At its heart, Rocky Horror is still an old musical about trannies and mad science love triangles (or perhaps trapezoids). What better excuse to let your hair down? The River Oaks Theater Rocky Horror show is one of Houston’s most reliable excuses for weirdness. It’s something everyone should see once, but don’t just go because it’s something to do. Go see it because it is awesome. Go see it because it is put on by people who obviously care about what they do. Whether they acknowledge it or not, the Beautiful Creatures provide a service to the city. They are the fishnets under Houston’s slacks. Go see them.
- Review by Zach of Texas! the Exhibit fame