I had prepared myself to draft a “compliment sandwich”-style review for this year’s version of “The Rocky Horror Show – Live on Stage” at the Henry Strater Theatre. My expectations were not high – something about an ’80s theme had me baffled, to say the least – and before I even arrived at The Hank, I was trying to find ways to soften the impact of my words.
Instead, Wednesday night’s dress rehearsal was a pleasant surprise and has moved me to attempt an “insult sandwich.” The meat of the show – the acting, singing and dancing – is Grade A, while the bread – the aforementioned ’80s theme – could just as well be discarded like an Atkins-friendly Rueben.
The popularity of “Rocky” since its 1975 film debut could hardly be explained by the story line. It’s an absurd premise, but the characters, especially the leads of Brad and Janet, Frank, Riff-Raff and Magenta, and the songs they sing are what keep audiences coming back.
I’ve seen Leah Nikula perform before, but the role of Janet allows her to show off her pipes in a way I’d never heard. She and Jacob Buras as Brad follow Leslie Hoxworth’s opening “Science Fiction Double Feature” with a good and loud “Damn It Janet” sung in the aisles that should have the crowd on its feet and dancing early.
And it should carry on from there. As one of eight people in the room for the rehearsal, it requires some imagination to envision another 200 or so people and how they might respond. But with high energy, engaging performances from K.K. McLaughlin as Frank, Mike Moran as the narrator, and Rodney Golberg in his return role as Riff-Raff, I expect the audience to follow their confident leads and get loose. At least, I hope so.
“Rocky Horror” also is a rock ’n’ roll show, and the band providing the score rocks. The quartet includes Joseph Albright on the electric piano, Julian Martinez on guitar, Ronnie Toplyn on bass and John Michael Peck on the drums. They’re loud and tight and so in sync with the singers and dancers on stage, I was shocked to hear that the entire troupe only rehearsed for two weeks.
Speaking of which, special kudos to the young but veteran actor Moran, who just finished a starring run in “Cabaret” last week, slid right into the narrator’s role for “Rocky” and even had to pick up a double-cast role as Eddie when a cast member had to drop out earlier this week.
Other standouts include Marcelina Chavira as Columbia. For those who haven’t seen her, she’s got an almost-little girl voice and bubbly stage persona, but there’s also a very grown-up, almost devious and scandalous woman lurking behind her eyes. She’s become one of my favorite local actors, and scenes are just more interesting when she’s in them.
If I can be critical of director Jenny Fitts Reynolds’ choice of theme, then I also can applaud her choice to cast Erika Beardsley in the heretofore male role of Dr. Scott. Beardsley’s German accent, and comic timing is a scene stealer as she unmasks Frank and his minions for what they truly are.
And not to overplay it, but sex is a big part of “Rocky Horror” and Fitts Reynolds obviously understands that. Carrie Foisel’s costumes are very complimentary to the entire cast and, in particular, the “Phantoms,” Elena Devin, Mohriah James and Cierra Taylor as well as Nikula.
I’m sure the guys look great, too. And someone should buy Jeremy Blair a drink or two for sporting Rocky’s trademark gold lamé briefs for two hours.
It’s no easy feat to stage a well-known show like “Rocky Horror” year after year and keep it fresh, but Fitts Reynolds and her cast and crew somehow pulled it off again. Seems a toast is in order. ...