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NIGHT LIFE

Celebrating 20 years of floor shows and sweet transvestites

January 17, 2008|Andrew Asch

MONEY and fame do not automatically bestow respectability. But anniversaries might. Just ask Mark Tomaino.

The 46-year-old theater producer witnessed camp movie "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" grow from an obscure, fringe obsession to material worthy of none other than the grand marquee of the Hollywood Bowl.

Tomaino led his Rocky Horror theater troupe, the Long Beach-based Midnight Insanity, to perform at the bowl at the 30th anniversary of "Rocky Horror" in 2005. Now another big anniversary looms on Midnight Insanity's horizon.

It will celebrate 20 years, or more than 1,121 weekly performances, of mouthing the smart-alecky double-entendres of "Rocky Horror" songs such as "Sweet Transvestite" and "Dammit Janet" -- all with the male and female actors performing in fishnet stockings. The anniversary transports this Long Beach troupe a long way from its beginnings at creaky Orange County cinemas. On Jan. 19, members will perform at the elegant Royal Theater on the Queen Mary.

For Tomaino, the performances are not about rebellion or tweaking anybody's values, even if the male cast members are wearing bustiers.

"It's more of a freedom-of-expression thing," says Tomaino, wearing at this interview a fedora hat and a pinstripe blazer. "People come here and they yell, scream and curse. They can't do that at work."

When Tomaino is not working at his day job as the Internet sales manager of a car dealership, he produces Midnight Insanity. The 40-member group's special talent is "shadowcasting," or acting out "Rocky Horror's" action as the flick screens above.

There are more than 100 "Rocky Horror" shadowcast groups around America. Los Angeles is one of the capitals of this cult. West L.A. cast Sins o' the Flesh celebrated a 20th anniversary on Jan. 5. Fans went into mourning when a longtime "Rocky Horror" venue, Pasadena's Rialto Theater, closed in August 2007.

The shows are like pep rallies -- with fans hurling rice, playing cards and crude jokes at the screen. But the jokes stop backstage. Tomaino reports that his troupe fusses long hours over replicating the movie's glam look. There are biweekly cast meetings and dress rehearsals every two months. The hard work fosters strong relationships.

Bill Ung, a 39-year-old computer programmer, has been playing the lead role of Brad Majors for 17 years. Tomaino's 21-year-old daughter, Crystal, is part of the cast too. It's one of the reasons why Tomaino returns to the show week after week.

"It's like going to church every Sunday," he says. "It's the place where you see all of your friends."

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theguide@latimes.com

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MIDNIGHT INSANITY

WHERE: Queen Mary's Royal Theater, 1126 Queen's Highway, Long Beach

WHEN: 9 p.m. and midnight Saturday

PRICE: $9

INFO: (562) 235-8053; www.midnightinsanity.com

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