Playhouse on the Square, Memphis, TN

January 23 – February 15, 2015

 

Production photos by Chris Neeley

Jerre Dye enters time warp as iconic Dr. Frank-N-Furter in ‘The Rocky Horror Show' at Playhouse on

Jon W. Sparks

11:34 AM, Jan 20, 2015


When it comes to pop culture’s most acclaimed cult characters, few loom as terrifyingly and hilariously large as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the ebullient, randy mad-doctor transvestite at the heart of monster movie spoof “The Rocky Horror Show.”

But is he really mad, or just misunderstood?

“He’s all of it all the time,” howls Jerre Dye, who plays the outsize character in the Playhouse on the Square production opening this weekend.

The ultra-camp musical came to life on stage in the early 1970s and was made into the film “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” in 1975. It became a midnight movie smash with fans dressing as the characters and talking back to the screen. Playhouse staged it in 1990 and 1997 and even took a production on a rare tour to Atlanta in 1998.

Locally, the most vividly remembered Frank-N-Furter is Mark Chambers, who went off to work in San Francisco and Florida but returns occasionally to town. A critic in The Commercial Appeal said of his 1997 performance that, “Chambers’s lack of inhibition, his finesse with comic improvisation, his three-octave speaking voice, his range of hairstyles from blue buzz cut to Jean Harlow platinum and his, well, gender flexibility, all make him hard to beat (but easy to spank) in this role.”

Dye knows this well.

“I was in the audience and sulking in the back row wishing I could be in it because all my friends were in it,” he says. “I completely and utterly adore Mark Chambers. I’ve worked with him, and I’d sit in the wings and watch him work his magic. It’s the first time I saw a real comedic genius.”

Dye was thinking that one day, the role of Frank would be his.

Finally, after he’d done his own genius, Ostrander-worthy work in “Angels in America” in 2013, Dye was asked by Playhouse on the Square executive producer Jackie Nichols if he’d like to essay the role of the not-so-good doctor.

“I busted out of my skin!” Dye says. “It’s definitely a bucket-list show.”

The iconic screen role belongs to Tim Curry, he says. Curry originated the role on stage and ran off with the film version. “A whole host of humans come to see Tim,” Dye says. “If I were coming, I’d be the same, so in some strange way, it’s my job to deliver a little of that beautiful specificity and the libidinous qualities he brings to the role, and then layer it up and add madness and physicality. Physicality is one of my favorite things to play around with on stage.”

It’s Dye’s first foray into the musical, but there are a couple of faces in this production who have traveled the time warp. One is director Scott Ferguson, who directed the 1997 version. “I have known Scott forever and a day, but we’ve only worked together in Chicago over the past couple of years,” Dye says. Another returnee is Bill Andrews, reprising his role as the narrator.

The rest of the cast, however, is a fresh-faced bunch who Dye says gives him a push. “I’m surrounded by energetic and incredible people,” he says.

Innocents Brad and Janet, who end up at the doctor’s laboratory, are played by Jordan Nichols and Leah Beth Bolton — “not too shabby there,” Dye says. “And Jordan and Travis Bradley are choreographing. They’re a couple, so there’s this dolphin talk between them, a symbiosis. Choreographically, people don’t usually push the envelope with this musical because it’s already a posture-y, pose-y kind of show, but they’ve decidedly not done that. It’s a dancy, dancy, dancy show — energetic and articulate.”

Dye ticks off the list of other crew members who are making their own marks on this production.

Katie Springmann is doing the scenic design, and Dye says she’s made the space look like it’s under construction: “It’s definitely designed to be elegant and sparse so as to create a kind of void that gets filled.”

As for costumes, Dye says Caleb Blackwell has brought a sci-fi movieland influence. “But,” he adds, “stylistically you might recognize a little wink-wink-nudge-nudge to the movie. And the chorus and ensemble are all iconic movie silhouettes from different time periods.”

Music director Amanda Wansa Morgan, who is a member of the performance faculty at Ole Miss, is doing her first show at Playhouse. “She played some rehearsal tapes,” Dye says, “and she delivers musical theater and rock and roll. It’s gonna be good.”

Dye is pumped to ride this performance pony (he says he has a My Little Pony fetish, so it fits). “It ain’t Shakespeare, but people come needing their itch scratched. That’s the goal.”