Carlock: Augusta’s Barn Theatre

Published 9:00 am Sunday, August 19, 2012

Augusta is a little town tucked away off mighty Int. 94 without even so much as an exit sign announcing its existence. Who would ever believe a live theater venue in such a location could even survive?

But the Barn Theatre has, for 33 years now, and I’ve been looking forward to checking it out. Then I learned that Fee Waybill, lead singer of the Tubes, was performing there in “The Rocky Horror Show” as Frank-N-Furter. Fee and I worked together when I co-produced the Tubes record “Tubes World Tour 2001” with Greg Ladanyi and David Foster as my first major production credit, so I hit the road to Augusta to connect with Fee again and finally check out this theater-in-a-barn that’s been chugging along 75 minutes from the Lake Michigan shore.

The profile of the theater was very cool and set back quite a distance from the road with an expansive lawn for parking in front. The theater was raised on a knoll at the rear of the property. Inside, past an entryway offering souvenirs and T-shirts, a set of double doors revealed the expansive exoskeleton of the barn: ceiling slats like ridged roof of mouth, vaulting a good 25 feet above over rows and rows of chair teeth. More than 400 seats fill the room from wall to wall. The legroom could’ve been just a bit better for a show without an intermission, but it wasn’t bad.

As the show began, certain members of the audience began shouting out some of the call-and-response dialogue that helped launch the film version into subcultural superstardom. The lewd, crude, filthy and XXX-rated viewer interjections between scripted lines got some of the best laughs of the night from the crowd. Really, the crowd was the big uncredited player in the night. The crowd’s outbursts helped us experience the audience exhibitionism that started at New York City’s Waverly Theater in the 1970s, but, unfortunately, I didn’t see anyone dressed up as characters. All we needed was Dori Hartley to show up and make it complete.

Fee’s performance at the Barn was his sixth, according to the program, and he clearly enjoys this show and the group. He’s a perfect fit as the fishnet-wearing “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania,” as years of portraying the character “Quay Lewd” from the Tubes stage show makes him no stranger to navigating stages with several inches of heels.

The Barn has a bat, called Barney, which also punctuated the show profoundly. I thought it was a radio-controlled prop at first, but, on the second and third swoop through, it was clear this was the real thing. Try to experience that on Broadway!

One of the other cool things about what they’re doing at the Barn is the after-show cabaret sets in a second detached building called the Rehearsal Shed Bar. It’s a small space, no more than 600 square feet from the looks of it, packed with tables. Beer and snacks, such as nachos and wings, were served by wait staff comprised of members of the troupe.

The cabaret sets are a collection of various songs sung by members of the cast with accompaniment by acoustic guitar or standup piano. There were no mics, but a little lighting tacked on the 8-foot ceiling helped create moods. The cabaret felt like a combination of a sing-along barroom and a living room concert. This is a great after-show addition, not to be missed.

That night, the song choices were bawdy sexual fare with the theme seeming to be “let’s find songs saying naughty words.” Though I love dirty words, I guess the songwriter in me saw the pattern immediately and felt a bit bored by it. If you’re older than 18, search YouTube for “The Pussycat Song” and you’ll get the feel for the majority of the cabaret.

My boredom with the predictability of the material aside, I will say they sold the songs well, and what more could you ask for?

It was great catching up with Fee, a true talent who’s spending the summer woodshedding his acting skills in southern Michigan between Tubes shows. You can also check him out as King Arthur in “Spamalot,” which started at the Barn Tuesday.

Dave Carlock is a 25-year veteran of the entertainment business whose work as a recording engineer and producer, touring musician, and songwriter made him Googleable. His continuing work as an Independent Content Creator of Sound and Image has earned him a Grammy Award certificate, two Platinum Record Awards, and a Paragon Award in advertising. Currently, he brings national and international artists to make records and music videos at his production studio in the Benton Harbor Arts District.