I don’t get to the theatre very often, for whatever reason, but on hearing from a friend about a new production of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW over at the Off Center Theatre (in Crown Center), I decided to take it in. I’ve seen the film several times, of course, but never the original stage show, and this thirty-fifth anniversary revival of Richard O’Brien’s cult horror musical is a nice seasonal selection. I have to say, with absolutely no credentials as a theater critic whatsoever, that it’s a good production. It’s got the intimacy the show needs, is well paced, and you can drink in the theater, which is a positive for any performance but fits this in particular.
The plot is as it always was. Brad Majors (ASSHOLE!- and also, Evan White) gets engaged to his best girl Janet Weiss (SLUT!- er, Katie Karel), and the two head out to meet their ex-tutor Dr. Everett Scott (Noah Whitmore.) However, they get a flat tire and seek help at the castle of Dr. Frank N. Furter (Doogin Brown), a sweet transvestite mad scientist who is about to unveil his latest creation, the beach blonde muscleman Rocky (Brian Shortess). Brad and Janet find themselves tempted by forbidden fruit, and though Frank is eager to help them along to corruption, he’s insanely jealous when it comes to his new toy.
As you can imagine, any production of ROCKY HORROR nowadays has to contend with the fact that much of its potential audience knows the film and its audience participation ritual by heart, and there’s a good chance they’ll play along with the stage version. Director Steven Eubank has chosen to head them off at the pass by throwing a few ringers into the audience and having them lead the commentary, even eliciting responses from the main cast. It’s as funny as it’s always been, and a few topical jokes have been thrown in. With that integrated into the action, the show starts to play more with the fourth wall- in particular, Vanessa Severo plays Magenta as an increasingly bored actress who at one point reads her lines off her hand.
The program indicates that the music has been futzed about with a bit by Eubank and musical director Daniel Doss, and again, having not seen the stage show before I’m not sure how much is different there. In comparison to the film, the songs are more consistently up-tempo, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t- “I’m Going Home”, “Once In A While” and “Science Fiction Double Feature” really work better slow (or at least without such noticeable percussion.) That said, the music is consistently good and there’s some enthusiastic dancing.
The show is very nearly stolen by Bill Pelletier as the Narrator, who plays along with the vulgarity and cat-calling more than you’d expect him to; indeed, he arguably sets the tone for the show. As Frank, Doogin Brown is as enthusiastic and overdramatic as he needs to be, though not as sexually overpowering as one would hope. As mentioned before, Vanessa Severo’s performance is twistedly inspired, and Price Messick gives Riff Raff a nice Peter Lorre vibe. Katie Kalahurka is a nicely bouncy and bratty Columbia, and Brad and Janet are as broad and dorky as they should be. Brian Shortress doesn’t make a huge impression as Rocky, but he can dance better than his screen counterpart.
The Off Center Theatre has a very small stage, so there’s not much room for decoration, but the creative team does its best. The burlesque elements outweigh the cheesy horror film elements somewhat, and I would say that bits of the costume and set design look too much like the film, but there are some nice touches. The costumes for the climactic floor show are particularly inspired.
Overall it’s a fun show, much zippier than the movie, though this comes at the expense of some of the story’s weird pathos. (Then again, my take on Frank N. Furter as tragic hero may not be the consensus reading.) It runs through the second of November, so catch it if you’re in town.