Fox’s Rocky Horror Picture Show

Fox’s Rocky Horror: queering the mainstream or mainstreaming the queer? Is one better than the other? Which did this anticipated remake achieve?

Last Thursday October 20, Fox aired a remake of the cult classic as a continuation of the trend of creating musical events for television. With the success of Grease: LIVE this past February, it makes sense that Fox would want to follow up with another musical event.

Yeah, it didn’t do too well. Let’s take a look at what went wrong, but also at what they did right.

First and foremost, IT. WAS. NOT. LIVE. I guess I didn’t read up on it as thoroughly beforehand as I should have, because I expected a live event, not a bad lip syncing one. Immediate disappointment. I had to do a quick search to confirm that yes, nowhere did it say that it would be sung and recorded live. A pity, really, considering the talent on board. (I’m mostly referring to Annaleigh Ashford, originator of Lauren in Cyndi Lauper’s musical Kinky Boots. What a sweetheart.)

All that to say that you’d think that Fox would have learned its lesson from Grease, that a live event as well as a live audience can absolutely make a show. The whole TV movie was begging to be live: there was even a band in the room for most of the film. A missed opportunity, unfortunately.

Of all the TV musicals so far, Rocky Horror had the worst ratings. Which is really unfortunate, because I had a good time watching it. But there’s a very simple explanation for this, and it honestly comes down to the choice of the musical.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show, as mentioned above, is a cult classic. This means that it not only has a large fan base, but a very dedicated and passionate one. However, this production was not made for them: it was cut down and cleaned up. Touching the property of such a loyal fan base is dangerous, and changing it at all means implosion. In attempting to make it more accessible, Rocky Horror alienated its fans.

So who was this created for? Not families, it’s too sexy for that. But anyone who isn’t a fan of the original and doesn’t know what to expect will be totally shocked if they do watch it, but here’s the thing: very few of them didn’t watch it at all.

The thing is, Rocky is too eccentric for the casual fan. Either you’re die-hard, or you’re left feeling slightly uncomfortable and confused. Where families were often a target for these past events, Rocky just doesn’t jam with those demographics. I believe that one of the main reasons that this production in particular flopped was for lack of a target audience.

HOWEVER, I do feel like I should defend this production, as I actually enjoyed myself quite a bit watching it. I don’t want to make this too long, but I do want to address some of the complaints that other reviews had. The main one being that this version was too sanitized, too Disneyfied by director Kenny Ortega, most well known for directing the High School Musical movies (what were you thinking, Fox? HSM and Rocky should be as far from each other as possible). While this version was cut down quite a bit – skillfully I might add, as the original plot is pretty messy – this production felt almost as radical and shocking as the movie, and that’s thanks to our lady and saviour, Laverne Cox.

If you’ve never heard of Laverne Cox, she’s a literal angel and transgender actress most known for her role on Orange Is the New Black. In the original movie, gender identity isn’t really a factor – Frank N Furter is a cross-dresser, yes, but he’s still considered a man. What was truly shocking at the time was the fact that he – a man – was creating another man as a sex object. I read a few articles criticizing the choice to cast Cox in the role, as the story isn’t as radical if it’s a woman creating a male sex toy. How hetero, these articles said.

But let me ask you this: when was the last time you saw a trans actor on mainstream television? Take a minute to think about it. Done? Yeah, that’s right: trans actors are rarely hired, even to play transgender roles. The simple fact of having a trans woman in a lead role is incredibly radical as it is. By including transness in the conversation, Fox’s Rocky Horror Picture Show brings the story into the present. What was radical in the 70’s isn’t as radical now, but Fox succeeded in altering the conversation with only a casting choice, and for that reason I absolutely respect this most recent attempt at a TV musical.

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Revolution They Wrote: Short Works Theatre Festival

Whoo, feminist theatre! Female creators! Stories about women written by women!

If you’re into any of these things, you should probably check out Revolution They Wrote, Concordia’s Short Works Feminist Theatre Festival going on this weekend at the MainLine Gallery on St-Laurent. It’s a collection of four shows, all describing various aspects of female experience, each between 25 and 50 minutes long, in one night. They still have two performances left: one tonight, Saturday March 19, and one tomorrow. Tickets are $3 for one show and $10 for all four, and they begin at 8 PM.

That’s all the technical stuff. Now, about the actual shows!

The Izzy Spectrum

Written by Cleopatra Boudreau, The Izzy Spectrum explores the fluidity of sexuality and sexual orientation. Super contemporary and set in Montreal, which made it feel totally accessible. It tells the story of young adult Izzy coming to terms with her sexuality after spending the night with another woman. This show was performed as a staged reading, as it’s still a work in progress, but nothing about it felt incomplete. Boudreau’s writing is hilarious, sweet, and very real. None of the humour felt forced, very much to the credit of the fantastic cast bursting with energy.

A Chorus of Unidentified Singers (ACOUS)

As this was originally a poetry piece, this show was very close to spoken word. ACOUS, written by Jess Glavina, discusses the unnamed role of women in both history and the contemporary world. Simple, elegant staging and lack of props focused the audience’s attention on the poetic script, divided into five acts, I believe. Each act almost acted as a movement-based poem. The silence between the lines spoke almost as much as the words themselves. Gorgeous piece.

RE:FUSE

I’d call RE:FUSE the most experimental piece of the night. Created and performed by Madeline Smart and Kathleen McKeown, it explores the cyclical nature of violence against women. What an exciting piece of performance art! The text was very sparse but completely effective, as it was very movement-based. At times funny, at times scary, but always exhilarating, RE:FUSE is a wild ride. Expect tutus, fantastic lighting, bowls of water, and lots of physicality. And most of all, prepare to be surprised.

The Blood Countess

The last piece of the night, The Blood Countess by Calla Wright and Emily Schon, tells the true story of Elizabeth Báthory, noblewoman in the 16th-century Kingdom of Hungary who was accused of killing and torturing hundreds of young women between 1585 and 1610. According to Schon, also the artistic director of Revolution They Wrote, it talks about “the fucked up way women are remembered in history,” and that it does. The piece is performed by three talented actors, all in the role of Elizabeth, and they seamlessly interact to tell the variations of the countess’s story. Such effective storytelling, simple but powerful use of props and sounds, the show is both fascinating and horrifying to watch. A fantastic way to end the night.

This is a really exciting festival, and it’s only in its second year so far. I can’t wait to see where it goes in future years, and I really hope you can make the time to drop by and experience these wonderful theatre pieces. You have until Sunday night!

Deaf West’s Spring Awakening: Closing Night on Broadway

This is not a review in the traditional sense, because I could never write a coherent review for this show. I have too much of an emotional connection to it, and this production has had too much of an impact on me for me to look at it from a critical perspective. So this is a disclaimer that this post will mostly be me raving about the show.

So, I had the immense opportunity to catch the very last performance of the Spring Awakening revival, and let me tell you, it was an incredible experience. I’d never before seen anything closing night on Broadway, and the energy was unlike anything I’d ever seen. I’m talking 5-minute bouts of applause after every number. The actors themselves were entirely bursting with energy onstage. I’d only seen this show once before, back in October, and while I had loved it then, this performance in particular blew me away.

What was really cool about this closing performance was that inevitably, the audience entirely consisted of pretty die-hard fans of the show. Which meant that there was huge applause anytime any of the memorable moments happened – Sean Grandillo’s Bobby Maler thing, Ali Stroker being Maria wheelin’, Alex Wyse’s “Touch Me” solo and Andy Mientus’s death drop. It was just totally wild.

It was also really interesting as an audience member who is fairly knowledgeable about this production and knowing it was the closing performance. I was trying to see absolutely everything, trying to catch every single detail in the show. Things like, the way Ernst stands with the girls during “The Dark I Know Well” while the guys are on the other side looking threatening. Or Austin McKenzie watching Wendla in a pretty creepy way during “Mama Who Bore Me”. Or Ernst lingering on the teddy bear when he helps Moritz pack up his stuff (yeah, I was pretty much watching Josh Castille as Ernst the whole time).

And then, there was the song “Totally Fucked”. Which totally f*cked me up. We’re talking show-stopping standing ovation at the end of the song, which was obviously well-deserved. Oh man, is that song well-placed, especially since I was bawling after “Left Behind”. You absolutely need this angry song after all the sadness to really get you going. It’s just this big release, and it feels SO GOOD.

After the show, Michael Arden made a speech, followed by Steven Sater. His speech in particular just made me completely lose it – he talked a lot about what Spring Awakening means to him personally, and I was entirely in tears, because he was describing pretty much exactly what it means to me. There’s some good footage of the speeches on YouTube, and you should definitely check it out.

That’s all I’m going to say for now. I could go on for ages about SA, but I’ll save that for future blog posts. If you don’t know this show, please, please check it out. The revival will be touring in the future, so watch out for that, too.

BroadwayCon 2016!

Hey everyone! It’s time to get back to regularly updating this blog, so here I am.

I was lucky enough to be in New York City for the first ever BroadwayCon, a convention for all things Broadway. I just got back this morning at 3 am after an 8 1/2 hour bus ride, and I really wanted to share my experience with all of you!

I had a total blast. I went with two very good friends of mine, Daisy and Ale (funny enough, we actually met last October at the Hamilton CD signing – yeah, that was a good day, too). All right, here we go:

Friday

BroadwayCon was actually my first convention, and I was pretty nervous about it, because I don’t usually do well in large crowds. Luckily, I think I had too much fun to notice!

Highlights of Friday definitely included the Spring Awakening panel. SA is one of my favourite shows of all time, and this revival (which just closed Sunday night, and that I was lucky enough to catch) is probably my favourite production of all time. For those of you who don’t know, this revival involves both hearing and Deaf actors and is performed in both English and ASL. It’s truly gorgeous (Michael Arden seriously deserves the Tony for Best Director, although everything will be overshadowed by Hamilton this season…). The cast is absolutely lovely, and it was so nice to see them at the con.

There was a GREAT panel on queer women in theatre (a topic very close to me) led by Fredi Walker (Johanne in Rent), Roberta Colindrez (Joan in Fun Home), and Ariana Debose (Hamilton).

I was a little underwhelmed by the opening ceremony, but that may have been because I had sucky seats. I didn’t catch any of the cameos, and I didn’t even recognize Lesli Margherita, who was onstage for the majority of the time.

Luckily, the Rent panel to celebrate its 20th anniversary made up for all that. It was really emotional, as the cast members were talking about the late Jonathan Larson, who wrote the show. Anthony Rapp was especially emotional, as he was very close to Jonathan and had a huge part in running the convention. I really felt like that moment was history in the making.

Oh yeah, there was the Hamilton panel. Lin-Manuel Miranda freestyled onstage. It was rad.

Saturday

The day of the blizzard. It was a wild ride, because a lot of the stars who were supposed to show up never made it. I was really excited to meet Kerrigan-Lowdermilk, an amazing composer-lyricist team, but they never made it. I did get to meet Joe Iconis at the Songwriters on Songwriting panel, another musical composer I idolize, and that was incredible.

The Fun Home panel was also a highlight, mostly because of Emily Skeggs being adorable as always. It was also really cool to see Lisa Kron, lyricist and bookwriter, who is also one of my heroes.

Saturday was mostly the day of technical panels, so although I enjoyed it A LOT, there’s not a whole lot worth writing down. I learned about stage management, about production assistants, about less-successful shows and why they didn’t stick around on Broadway. Very cool stuff.

The day ended with an incredible performance by Krysta Rodriguez, who blew us all away with her unrehearsed songs. There was supposed to be a huge cabaret with lots of big names, but because of the storm, they couldn’t show up; it was amazing though, because Krysta took requests from the audience and the accompanist casually played along by looking up the songs on his iPad. There were a lot of crowd favourites (Safer, Breathe, and Blue Hair, which Joe Iconis played along to, of course). It was altogether a fantastic end to a fantastic day.

Sunday

Sunday was the shortest day, but it was still loads of fun! I started off the day with a panel about adapting movies/plays/books/etc. for the stage, which included Laurence O’Keefe, who’s written shows like Bat BoyLegally Blonde, and Heathers. Definitely a composer worth idolizing.

My favourite part of the day was the Smash panel, though. If you don’t know, Smash was a TV show from a couple of years ago about the making of Broadway musicals and featuring actual Broadway stars with songs by actual Broadway composers. It was a flawed show, but gosh darn it, it was fun. The season 2 producer led the panel, and he screened cut clips as well as shots from some of the coolest numbers from season 2, like “I Heard Your Voice in a Dream” and “Public Relations”. I feel so lucky to have been there, because it was incredible, especially since he was adamant that none of these clips could be filmed by the audience. It was truly a one-time occasion.

BroadwayCon also gave us a taste of the upcoming Broadway season, with performances from the cast of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 (a personal favourite of mine) and Tuck Everlasting.

Oh, and did I mention that Sara Bareilles showed up for the Waitress panel and did an impromptu performance of “She Used to Be Mine”? Crazy! The audience (including me) totally lost it.

All in all, it was an amazing, unforgettable weekend. The organizers did a great job of keeping the event running despite the storm, especially since it was the first ever convention of this kind. I think my favourite part of everything was that it gave me this sense that I belonged to the theatre community, and made it clear to me that I do have a place in it. It didn’t hurt that the weekend ended with the closing night performance of Spring Awakening, but that’s the subject of another blog post…

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! I definitely recommend BroadwayCon if you are, like me, a theatre fan desperate to be in a giant room full of other theatre fans. It’s pricey, but it’s an unforgettable experience.

Have a great week!

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In other news, I’ve started a YouTube channel called DaniLearnsASL, where I post short, personal video clips to help me along as I learn American Sign Language. If it’s your thing, check it out!