By Milan Paurich
When the Narrator (a wonderfully imperious Nicole Zayas) cautions the audience at the start of “The Rocky Horror Show” that they’re in for the ride of their lives, she ain’t just whistling Dixie.
The kicky Oakland Center for the Arts revival of Richard O’Brien’s revered, adored and downright fetishized cult phenomenon that opened Friday night is a wickedly entertaining roller coaster of polymorphous perversity.
In its current incarnation, “Rocky Horror” is also a substantially different experience from what fans of the midnight movie staple might be expecting. Oakland auteur Robert Dennick Joki has so completely — and successfully — reimagined “RH” that it almost seems like a brand-new theatrical experience.
Let’s start with Joki’s uber- creative costume design. Yes, Brad Majors (Eric McCrea) still dons a sweater vest and dorky glasses, and fianc e Janet Weiss (Alyssa Connelly) continues to look positively virginal, even when stripped down to her bra and panties.
But everyone else — Rocky (an utterly fearless, totally unabashed Rick Morrow), Magenta (the fierce Melissa Cook), Dr. Frank N’ Furter (Joki), et al — seems utterly transformed by their makeovers. Think “Fellini Satyricon” crossed with “Star Wars,” and you’ll have some idea of the haute couture changes Joki has up his sleeve.
Another thing that feels new-ish is the renewed emphasis on the show’s science-fiction elements that have generally been overlooked, or downright ignored, by the film version’s legion of idolators.
Joki — who directed, stars and — whew! — supervised the costuming and set design — never lets us forget that Frank N’ Furter, Riff Raff (Shawn Lockaton, wittily channeling the 1972-era Alice Cooper), Columbia (Molly Makselan) and the gang truly are space aliens from the planet Transsexual in the galaxy of Transylvania.
That “embrace-the-geek” factor alone distinguishes this “RH” from any past version you’ve ever seen.
While Joki’s affinity for nontraditional casting hasn’t always delivered on its utopian promise, here it feels divinely inspired.
“The Rocky Horror Show” is all about embracing difference (gender, alternative lifestyles, etc.), and what could be more subversive than an ensemble of varying shapes, ages and sizes? “Don’t dream it, be it!” indeed.
Recasting Dr. Scott (Geri DeWitt) as a Molly Goldberg-ish yenta is pure genius. And instead of playing Frank N’ Furter as the traditionally androgynous “Mick Jagger meets David Bowie” diva immortalized by Tim Curry, Joki turns the lovable trannie into the spitting image of John Waters superstar Divine in “Female Trouble.” Absolutely fabulous.
If O’Brien’s book remains a fairly obvious melange — riffing on everything from Eisenhower era sci-fi movies, rock ’n’ roll and ’70s bisexual chic — his score might actually be better than it was originally given credit for.
A surprisingly sophisticated blend of musical styles and genres, the “RH” songbook has more golden nuggets than dross (which definitely separates it from, say, “Grease,” which debuted around the same time).
“Science Fiction/Double Feature” (gorgeously sung by Marisa Zamary’s goth Usherette), “Once in a While” (the closest thing to an old-fashioned ballad here), “The Time Warp” and “Sweet Transvestite” (a song seemingly written for Joki’s nonpareil range) have never sounded better or more deliciously iconic.
Joki and the dependably great Lockaton are the cast’s undisputed vocal superstars, but there really isn’t a weak or indifferent performance (Andrew Labedz is a hoot in his too-brief turn as biker-turned-science-experiment Eddie).
Even Morrow — arguably the weakest singer in this stellar group. Yet the YSU nursing student also brings a genuinely sweet and unaffected comic spin to boytoy Rocky that’s immensely winning.
The multitalented Joki has been on quite a roll lately. “Reefer Madness,” his Marquee-winning one-man-show “I’m Not That Girl,” “The Great American Trailer Park Musical,” “Rent Jr.” and now this irresistible “Rocky” re-do.
I can’t wait to see what changes he has in store for Oakland holiday perennial “How the Drag Queen Stole Christmas” next month.
X“The Rocky Horror Show” runs through Nov. 14 at the Oakland Center for the Arts. For tickets or additional information, call (330) 746-0404.