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Onyx’s ‘Rocky Horror’ feels like a party

Cory Benway took a big risk in playing the transvestite Dr. Frank N. Furter in Off-Strip/Onyx Theatre’s adult musical “The Rocky Horror Show.” After all, he’d just played Hedwig, another singing transvestite, in Insurgo’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Was Benway, a brilliant actor, going to become known merely as a drag queen?

Not to worry. Benway proves his chops by giving his creation a whole new slant. Unlike Hedwig, Benway here is cold, invulnerable, wanting only his own love. He so thoroughly loses his own personality that you have trouble believing it’s him (or Hedwig) behind the mascara, eyelashes and garters.

This tale (with book, music and lyrics by Richard O’Brien), about a hopelessly naive couple, Brad (Aaron Marcotte) and Janet (Elizabeth Mathews), who stumble onto the evil doings of the doctor and his creation of a beautiful boy toy (Brooks Asher), is, at times, ponderous. But director Joe Hynes provides a consistently light touch.

The production — with plenty of audience participation encouraged — feels like a party. On opening night, there was so much (appropriate) ad-libbing going on with the audience, that Benway at one point quipped, “If we keep this up, we’ll be here till Tuesday!” (I wouldn’t have minded.)

Hynes is careful to load the stage with other talents. Marcotte is a beautifully geeky Clark Kent-ish Brad; he uses his training as a dancer to help him create a character who doesn’t feel comfortable in his body. Asher looks like someone’s fantasy of a boy toy, but what makes him memorable is his ability to play lost. He’s caught up in something he doesn’t understand, and we feel for him.

For all the entertainingly vulgar nonsense, Hynes keeps these characters human. He captures the script’s soul (more so, I think, than did the 1975 film).

He gets considerable help from costumer David Heckman and choreographer Jenna Wurtzberger, who provide a multitude of Vegas-y effects.

And Benway proves he still has a few surprises up his sleeve. It’s not just that his performance is on target; he demonstrates an emcee’s command in taking charge of the house. There’s not a whiff of hesitation in him, and that allows us to relax and let his character take us wherever he wants us to go. Careful, folks.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat @aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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