Ludicrous Theatre offers a close-quarters ‘Rocky Horror Show’

Kevin Buswell stares down Kirk Jackson and Mara Stewart in Ludicrous Theatre’s “Rocky Horror Show.”

“Don’t dream it; be it,” sings Ludicrous Theatre’s energetic cast in tight harmony. This lyric, which closes out cult musical Rocky Horror Show, could easily be the mantra for this hardworking storefront theatre company. Someone had a dream to do Rocky Horror, and, dammit, Janet, they’re gonna do it — despite space and budget constraints.

And for the most part, they’ve succeeded — particularly in the first half of this 75 minute, intermissionless party. When you enter the 50-seat Heartland studio theatre space, the box office attendant (director Wayne Shaw) yells for “Maude,” a rumpled charwoman (Suzanne Bracken, who’s clearly having a ball in her multiple roles), to seat you. Maude loudly laments how her beautiful science fiction movie theatre is being transformed into a porno house. Vintage science fiction movie previews play on the screen in front. It’s a great introduction to the world of the play.

Then the (muffled and pre-recorded) music starts, and things sag a bit. Now, this isn’t a great show — it’s camp and oddball and tawdry, and you really need an engaged audience to make it work. Saturday night’s audience was… polite. And the cast sold their songs as best they could. I felt for them. There’s a lot of attitude and energy on the stage, and it takes some real moxy to wear pleather panties and fishnet stockings in such close quarters.

I do think the show could really take off if the ensemble could focus more on maintaining the energy than literally stopping the show to move overly complex set pieces between scenes.

Still, there are some standout performances, including Bracken (who’s doing double duty as “Maude” and a bust-heaving Magenta), Kelly Parker as squeaky Columbia, Brian Elliot as Dr. Scott and Kevin Buswell as a spot-on Riff Raff. They each manage to find their own characterizations in a show that seems very much directed in the template of the well-known movie’s performances. Unfortunately, David Goodman’s mostly well-sung Frank “drags” the show down a bit — not only is he a little too tepid to spark any sexual danger for poor Janet or Brad, someone needs to give the poor guy a lesson in walking in heels.

This has the potential to be a really fun night out if they pick up the pace, keep the energy high, and market the thing as a bawdy BYOB night out.

“Rocky Horror” plays through September 17 at Heartland Studio Theatre, 7016 North Glenwood Chicago. More info here >

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