Laverne Cox’s Frank-N-Furter is Just Too Hot

I love Laverne Cox. I really do. And previously, I had mentioned that when FOX announced they were “remaking” Rocky Horror, that we shouldn’t panic.

…. Start panicking.

Today we got to see the first image of Laverne Cox as Dr. Frank-N-Furter via Entertainment Weekly. Immediately, we all want to compare to Tim Curry. How can you not? He is the essential, definitive Frank-N-Furter. But let’s put the defensive, protective anger aside for a minute, and look into why he worked that corset so well.

The beauty of Tim Curry playing the transvestite from transsexual Transylvania is simple: It’s not based on visuals. When you look at Curry, you’re supposed to be confused. He’s very clearly a man wearing makeup and fishnets. He’s feminine without hiding his masculinity. It’s intentionally designed to make your brain go WTF?

But the real truth behind that visual decision is that the characters (and probably the viewers) are still sexually attracted to Frank-N-Furter. Because it’s not about his appearance, it’s about his sexual essence. That sexuality comes from an energy, a personality of confidence and playfulness, not a visually-identifiable gender.

Laverne Cox? She’s stunning. But in making her gorgeous, the bizarre, gritty, titillating confusion that is the core of RHPS is lost.

I don’t want to give up all hope just yet. But these images are a big, red flag. So… we’ll see.

Highs and Lows of Grease: Live from a TV Geek and Musical Freak

This foray into live TV musicals has been an interesting journey thus far. NBC’s been the only one taking it on (so much so, that  many on Twitter last night thought they were watching NBC), and they’ve been improving, as far as it goes. Sound of Music was a cardboard production. Peter Pan was confusing. They finally started to get their act together with The Wiz! But I think Fox has upped the ante with Grease: Live.

I was SUPER stoked, as a huge fan of Grease and live musical events. And I was really eager to see how Fox was going to pull it off. Here are some thoughts:

The High Notes:

The production quality. The sets. The costumes. The camera work. All of it was just stunning. Greased Lightning and Freddy My Love were real standouts, technically speaking.

Vanessa Hudgens. Damn, girl. I’m not the biggest fan of “Worst Things…” but she knocked it out of the park. And under such emotional duress. I don’t think I’d have the strength. Well done.

The energy. Keeping up the dance-y vibe of Grease is a tremendous undertaking, particularly during the dialogue-heavy spots. On stage, and to an extent on film, the lurid language keeps up some of the spunk, but, as expected,  much of that was cut in favor of a family-friendly presentation. And yet, the energy was still there, in part thanks to Patty and Eugene, serving as highly-caffeinated transitions.

Doody. Jordan Fisher. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. And what a great way to incorporate “Magic Changes.” He was truly the stand-out T-Bird.

The women, in general. I know some thought there was over-acting, but … that’s how it’s supposed to be. All the Pink Ladies, Patty, Principal McGee and Blanche, Mrs. Murdock – the shop mechanic (an appropriate path for Jan Brady, btw) and the adorable Didi Conn — brilliant.

The Average Range:

The live audience. I’ve been BEGGING for a live audience. It feels like the biggest missing element in NBC’s shows. But due to the staging of Grease: Live, this was one production that didn’t seem to NEED it. Between the soundstage traveling and the fancy camera movement, there was a constant and energized flow. Not to mention that the cast seemed well stocked with extras, so if we ever had a moment that needed some audience noise, surely they could have provided it. It was just the wrong venue for a live audience. Some mentioned the live audience used as background extras was distracting, but I didn’t get that.

Frenchy’s new song. Carly Rae Jepsen wasn’t at fault, though. The song itself felt out of place, completely lacking any doo-wop, era-specific strokes.

Sandy and Danny. Oh, they were great when they were singing and dancing. But speaking…. not so much. Aaron Tveit has a great voice and looked swell in short shorts. But when it came to just speaking… let’s just say, it really made me miss Travolta. John made Danny a quirky cool, an oddball character with deliberate delivery. And Julianne Hough was… fine. Great dancer. Meh.

The Clunkers:

Kenickie. Kenickie is supposed to be the real cool one. The bad ass. I mean, come on, it’s why he and Rizzo work so well, and it’s why the Kenickie/Danny bro-ship is so good – Kenickie makes Danny cooler, challenges him. Danny, in turn, softens Kenickie, cools him down when he gets out of hand. Carlos PenaVega was way forgettable. Which for me, ruined the BFF drag racing scene a bit.

The golf carts. Some liked them. I did not. And I love backstage stuff. But this felt like too much backstage stuff during the show. I kind of wish it was a secret, revealed in a “making of” at the end. But it’s relatable to anyone whose done live theatre. I was in a Shakespeare play in college, where I had to exit upstage right, run up 2 flights of stairs, down a hallway, through the dressing room and costume closet, down one flight of stairs, through the lobby, through the pitch-black shop to make my downstage left entrance mere lines later. Blind, by the way. I wasn’t wearing my glasses and didn’t have contacts. But that’s theatre, folks. Save the backstage secrets for after the show, not during.

Mario Lopez. Why was he hosting? At that point, they should have courted Ryan Seacrest. Would have been funnier, anyway.

Apparently, during the actual LIVE broadcast, there were some tech issues. By the time it got to me, they had cleaned it up, so I can’t make any real comment there.

The Coda?

I really liked it. No, it didn’t replace the film. But boy, was it fun. This is exactly why I’m not freaking out about the upcoming RHPS remake, just sayin’.

NBC’s next musical is Hairspray, which is strikingly similar in energy to Grease, with even more of a social agenda. Hopefully, they’ll take some cues from Fox’s success.

In Defense of the Rocky Horror Picture Show TV Event…

Cool your jets there, Columbia. Let’s not freak out.

Rocky Horror is a beloved cult classic, and it’s HUGE amongst my own friends and groups. (Theatre folk, haunted house workers, cult movie afficionados…)

The film has a special place in my heart, for certain. But I’m seeing a lot of my friends from all facets freak the fuck out every time a casting decision is announced. While I, of all people, understand the fiercely defensive position many are taking, I think it’s a little much for these two reasons:

#1. It has a new cast ALL THE TIME. Because it’s a play.

Rocky Horror’s tumultuous life began on stage as The Rocky Horror Show by Richard O’Brien. It was a funny take on genre B-movies. On the London stage, it was a success, but on Broadway, it only lasted for a handful of performances. By some miracle, it was greenlit as a film and thus, the cinematic beauty that is RHPS was born. And thanks to the bizarre success of the film over time, the stage version is just as popular among community and professional theatres. It’s brilliantly interactive, strangely captivating, and allows the individual theatre to play to their strengths. So while you can whine about how no one will ever replace Tim Curry (and let’s face it, they won’t), the truth is, he’s replaced every day. So don’t think of it as an attempt to replace or replicate. Think of it as a pyramid, with Curry sitting on top as Queen, and all the Frank-n-Furters beneath him, just trying to do their best.

#2. It’s a TV Special.

This isn’t a cinematic remake, where a big studio is sinking tens of millions of dollars on A list stars, shiny sets and costumes, and 2 new Oscar-eligible songs shoehorned into the score. It’s a Fox one-night only event. Laverne Cox and Adam Lambert are the biggest names attached right now, with Kenny Ortega directing. They’re all fine and on par with a TV event. Look, the worst case scenario? It’s somehow blandly mediocre and disappears into the bowels of TV history, referenced only in obscure trivia. It’ll be like it never happened.  Best case? It’s actually a blast, and pulls in a new, previously virginal audience who will most likely check out all they can about RHPS and fall upon the film. And if it is good, there will always be fans who insist that it’s better than the original, and you know what? That’s okay. Sometimes these things need to happen in order to bring in fresh blood.

No one will ever replace Tim Curry. And I don’t think anyone wants to try. But he makes the role look so damn fun, any actor with a little flair would want to try their hand at it.

So, chill. It’ll be fine.

Update 1/15: Tim Curry will officially be joining the event as Narrator. So, see? If he’s in, we surely can sit back and see what happens before losing our minds.