The Rocky Horror Show at The Firehouse Theatre Project (Or, whaddaya mean I can’t yell ‘Asshole!’?)

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is (and has been for 40 years) a true phenomenon, inspiring generations of “freaks “; letting them know they are not alone.

That’s a fantastic legacy for a play and film that has about 45 minutes of good material.

It’s known mostly as a film that is at times so poorly paced and acted that fans in the 1970s began to fill silences onscreen by talking back to the movie. That’s why it was a bit of a disappointment, though not unexpected, when I saw a note on the font of the program stating “audience participation is strictly prohibited”.

Ah, bummer man!

Even though I know the film (very well), I didn’t know what to expect seeing a live production; and the first surprise came with the first song, “Science Fiction Double Feature”, sung by a very sultry and sexy Magenta (Joy Newsome). Newsome’s time onstage is worth the ticket price. While she was wearing glitter and lingerie, her voice was truly enough to get my attention.

“The Master”, Frank N. Furter is played by Terence Sullivan. Upon his entrance number (the iconic “Sweet Transvestite”), Sullivan tried very hard to channel Tim Curry (who played the role on film), but by the end of the song, and every song afterward, Sullivan sounded more like Adam Lambert. Only when he spoke dialogue did he have Curry’s accent and rhythm down. It’s a tough role and he has some imposing fishnets to fill, I just wish he would’ve chosen one of the two to use as his template. He did a great job, but the differences in his vocal and dialogue delivery were at times frustrating.

If you know “Rocky Horror” then you know that for almost the entire show, most of the cast slips into (and out of) lingerie. There was a lot of ‘shock value’ in that wardrobe choice in 1975, but, How to push the envelope for a 2012 audience?

The answer: trading in innuendo for silhouetted -sex scenes that, while no nudity is involved, leave nothing to the imagination. See this play with someone you know very well. That will spare you some very awkward moments and post-show conversation.

Richard O’Brien wrote the book, lyrics and music, and this Richmond production does include songs that were not part of the original play: “Round Like A Record”, a solo moment for Columbia that was a single for Little Nell, who played Columbia on film, the year after Rocky. The song was okay, but a bit forced to try and fit into the story. Also included for some unknown reason is the title to the Rocky companion piece “Shock Treatment” from 1981 (Don’t call it a Rocky sequel!).

The First Act of any production of Rocky Horror is always its strongest portion, namely the first five songs. After Act One ends, the songs become average and the plot, in a word, disappears entirely.

This production definitely has the right spirit and enthusiasm. The whole cast is strong, particularly Brad (Nick Shackleford) and Janet (Aly Wepplo). Newsome as Magenta is BETTER than the portrayal in the movie, and, from a selfish perspective, just like the movie, Columbia is portrayed by a very sexy redhead (Maggie Horan, who has a much better voice than Little Nell)

Go see it (again, with someone you know VERY well) and enjoy a fun, sexy, campy good time.

Remember, it’s just a jump to the left…

Thanks for reading,

The Rocky Horror Show at Firehouse Theatre Project thru August 25.

Tickets $14-$28

KISS: Destroyer [Resurrected] – A Fan’s Thoughts

As a whole, the band KISS have very few albums, or even songs, that a fan can share with a non-fan and say proudly, ‘This is KISS at their best, delivering the goods on vinyl, no gimmicks needed.’ For a brief time, a very long time ago, KISS was more than a hype machine, they were more than just merchandise; they were a kick ass rock and roll band.

How long ago, exactly? 1976. In the late fall of 1975 thru the winter of 1976, KISS ALIVE! put KISS on the map as a live band, spawning the top-ten hit  ‘Rock And Roll All Nite.’ After years of struggle and hardship, the four members [Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss] were now expected to follow up that success with a studio record, to prove to their record label that this was no gimmick.

The band went outside their comfort zone, called on Alice Cooper’s producer Bob Ezrin and, on the Ides of March, 1976, “Destroyer” was released to a hungry KISS Army.

Then things exploded.

You have to understand, this record moved KISS from ‘rock stars’ to part of the national consciousness. Those four faces became as recognizable as the Coke logo. The album only had nine songs on it, but several of those are still part of KISS’ live set. ‘Masterpiece’ is a bit much when describing a rock album, but ‘Destroyer has long been hailed by many critics and fans as ‘the best KISS album in their catalog, and 36+ years later, most of it stands up well.

So, why try to ‘fix’ something that ain’t broke?

Tuesday [7.31] the band released “Destroyer [Resurrected]’, a remixed version of the 1976 classic. My first thought when seeing the title was ‘I didn’t know it had died!’ But, being curious, I downloaded this iTunes exclusive this week to see how it was different from the version I have lived with and listened to constantly since I was a toddler.

The album begins with an audio scene: someone listening to a news report on the radio about a Michigan youth killed in a head on collision the previous night. Then we flashback to that fan, as he gets in his car and makes his way to ‘the midnight show’ while listening to ‘Rock And Roll All Nite’ from KISS ALIVE. Why am I mentioning this? Because the first noticeable difference on this remixed album came forty seconds in, when I heard the car door slam shut. It had much more bass than I remembered and it made me go ‘Whoa! Okay…let’s see what else has been changed.’

Ah, how soon my hopes were dashed.

On the opening song, ‘Detroit Rock City’, Ezrin and company do indeed have a lot more bass in the mix and it almost sounds like Peter Criss’ snare drum has a damper on it. It’s more dense, almost like a floor tom. But then, Ezrin messed up the best musical moment on record in KISSTORY. At the 3:55 mark of the song begins the ‘dual guitar solo’ that truly is KISS’ best sounding sonic moment…and Ezrin and company inserted a background vocal track over part of the solo. The same thing happened to this section of ‘Detroit Rock City’ when it was included on the 1978 Greatest Hits package ‘KISS Double Platinum’ but on this 2012 remix, the vocal is louder and even more annoying.

I was crestfallen. No matter what improvements have been made sonically, that one decision basically ruined it for me.

So, what improvements were made? Well, the drums are definitely turned up louder in the mix than they were in 1976. In fact, Peter’s rolling intro to ‘King of the Night Time World’ was so far out front, I heard notes/beats I had never heard before [the first two notes he plays on snare were completely hidden in the original mix]. Overall the album is a bit ‘dirtier’ and has lost some of the gloss that made it seem so jarringly different from its predecessors upon its release. I know why they did that, but I have heard the gloss for most of my life. I miss the gloss.

One of the other classic songs from Destroyer is Gene’s show stopper, ‘God of Thunder.’ I’ve never really cared for the studio version, though Ezrin did go out of his way to create a very scary audio landscape, even using audio of his two kids screaming into a microphone, drenched in reverb, to make it seem like they were being terrorized by The Demon. It still packs a punch years later, but the only notable difference with the new remixed version is that the kids’ screaming and yelling has been moved up in the mix, so they are even more annoying than they were on the first version.

‘Shout It Out Loud’ didn’t sound all that different. This song became the Ezrin calling card for decades, so most of the gloss was left in tact. Maybe the background vocals are a bit more prominent.

‘Beth’ was the song that brought KISS an entirely new audience when it went from a B-side throwaway to multi-platinum hit, and the changes to this song are subtle, but they are perfect. The acoustic guitar is brought out front, truly competing with the strings for attention.

‘Sweet Pain’ is the only song that sounds radically different, with a completely different guitar solo. I don’t know if this was recorded in 1976 or 2012 (no liner notes until the CD and LP versions are released later this year) but I can guarantee you that, whenever it was done, it was not recorded by Ace Frehley. Dick Wagner played the solo on the original LP and I don’t know if the remixed version simply includes an alternate take from that session, or if someone [named Tommy Thayer!] recorded a new solo. I doubt the truth, whatever it is, will ever be known.

So, bottom line: I’m not sure the reason this was released, apart from the obvious Gene $immon$ motivation. Some long time fans will like the new sound. It won’t win any new fans, and if a new fan finds this version of Destroyer first, then I remind you KISS Army that it is your duty to make sure that new fan hears the original 1976 version.

If this leads to a remixed/re-imagined re-release of ‘Music From The Elder’, which was also a Bob Ezrin project, then we’re all done for.

Thanks for reading