— Erika Thompson (Janet) and Will Hopkins (Brad)
THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW
Women in push-up bras–yikes! Topless men wearing make-up–horrors!! Transexual transvestites from Transylvania!!!
Shocking? Once upon a time, sure. But in an age when ten-year-old girls are twerking along with Miley Cyrus, and your average Starbucks barista sports tattoos much scarier than Riff-Raff’s hunchback, The Rocky Horror Show seems kind of cute, even tame, and definitely retro.
Add to this the fact that most audience members under, say, 25 are not likely to have thrown rice at the screen at a midnight showing of the movie, or yelled “Slut!” at every mention of Janet’s name. Most of them won’t know the show well enough–or at all–to provide the crucial audience participation factor. Well then, Houston, we have a problem.
It doesn’t have to be a problem. Richard O’Brien’s 1975 musical hasn’t sustained its popularity this long just because of its shock value or hyper-camp qualities. Besides being wacky, Rocky Horror has a rocking great score and songs that invite strong principal voices and the substantial chorus to blow the roof off the theatre. It should all make us want to do The Time Warp again and again.
Which brings us to Ryan Mooney and Fighting Chance Productions’ staging of the show at Jericho Arts Centre. Mooney has shown in the past that he knows how to get the most out of semi-professional casts in musicals like Sweeney Todd and Rent. And he has some pretty impressive talent (and beautiful bodies) to work with here.
He’s also aided by a slick production team. Kerry O’Donovan on keyboards directs a terrific little band (Mark Richardson guitar, Marisha Devoin bass, Alicia Murray drums). Anna Kuman’s intentionally cheesy choreography gives the dancers plenty of opportunity to warp their stuff. And Oriana Camporese’s black-and-red-based costumes let us know we’re in a world of bizarre, eclectic, equal opportunity sexuality.
Okay then, let’s go up to the lab and see what’s on the slab.
William Hopkins and Erika Thompson are our innocent, geeky, straight friends Brad and Janet, whose car breaks down outside a strange castle. They’re ushered in by creepy Riff-Raff (Ray Boulay) and schoolgirl-slutty Columbia (Kelli Ogmundson) and Magenta (Jessica Bryn). Enter king of the castle, mad scientist and alien Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Seth Little) with his creature, Rocky (Hal Rogers). Soon Brad and Janet start to lose their clothes. And after both get it on with Frank, their inhibitions.
All these boys and girls can sing but a few performances really stand out. Ogmundson’s Columbia is a cute little package of musical dynamite with presence to burn. Thompson accomplishes Janet’s transformation from clean-cut virgin to sexed-up hot tamale with panache. When she’s down to her underwear, singing to Rocky, “Touch-a, touch-a, touch-a, touch me, I want to feel dirty!” she cranks up the sexual thermostat to where it should be for most of the show.
As the Transylvanian transexual transvestite, the show’s unadulterated star, Little is fabulous. He has all the right moves, the body language, the vocal drawl and arrogance. He sings nicely in a variety of registers and wears his corset and heels as if born to them.
In an early cameo as rock ‘n’ roller Eddie and a great late turn as wheelchair-bound Nazi Dr. Scott, Steffanie Davis comes close to stealing the show, even as the plot becomes nearly incomprehensible.
But Rocky Horror isn’t about its plot or even its characters. Driven by the sound, the style and what should look and feel like polymorphous perversity, it has to transport us to Planet Fun. And we don’t always quite get there in this production.
The biggest problem is the sound. So we can hear them over the loud band, the principals are miked. But the mikes seem to cut in and out so we lose a lot of what those strong voices bring to those good tunes. And many of the songs are arranged to be amplified by the background voices of the ten Phantoms who make up the chorus. But those performers aren’t miked, so we can barely hear them at all. They sometimes look as if they’re miming the songs, which come off sounding much thinner than they should without the full choral effect and consistent amplification.
The night I saw the show, most of the audience seemed unfamiliar with it. So instead of audience members shouting out commentary, chorus members were assigned the task. But it was done haphazardly, even half-heartedly, so audience participation never developed momentum.
And the show’s sex factor is often just lukewarm. During the pre-show, “virgins” in the audience (those who haven’t seen it before) are brought on stage to lose their cherries: red balloons held between their knees, popped by an actor on her knees with a pin between her teeth. That’s cool fun, and edgier than a lot of the physical interaction between performers during the show.
To borrow from one of its song titles, this production could do with more wild and untamed things to keep it fresh for a new generation.