The Rocky Horror Show: Stratford Lets Its Hair Down… And Then Has Sex With It

Confession time:  I’m one of those people who never got over The Rocky Horror Show. More specifically, I never got over The Rocky Horror Picture Show, starring Tim Curry and Susan Sarandon.  Second confession: I don’t feel the need to.  I love it. Every part of it. The performances. The look. The music. The humor. The absurdity. The effects. The costumes (or lack thereof). I’ve loved it ever since I first laid eyes on it.  I’ve seen it at high school parties, packed college playhouses, and dorm rooms at 3am.  I’ve seen it straight and I’ve seen it with roaring crowds and I’ve seen it with amateurs just trying their best.  I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it, I’ve injected it into my veins and grooved with it. But I had never seen it on stage.  Until now.

Stratford Does The Rocky Horror Show

“It’s Not Easy Having A Good Time.”

I have never seen anything like Rocky Horror in Stratford’s long history, which alone makes it worth the price of admission.  Sure, I’ve seen productions that struck a chord in me like Dangerous Liasons or The Tempest, entertained me like Tommy and Blithe Spirit, thrilled me like Richard III or Cyrano de Bergerac, and I’ve seen productions that knocked my socks off. 2014’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is still the best experience I’ve ever had in a theater, period. But this was something different. This was a riot.

The play, a giddy cocktail of b-movie horror/sci-fi tropes zapped with 1950s rock-in-roll musical numbers by Richard O’Brien, follows the chilling tale of Brad Majors (asshole) and Janet Weiss (slut), a newly engaged couple, who find themselves stranded after a blowout and forced to seek shelter in the mystifying castle of Dr. Frank N. Furter.  The couple are immediately stripped to their undies and taken to the Doctor’s laboratory, where he introduces them to his Monster, a glistening hunk named Rocky, created for one purpose and one purpose only, to relieve Frank N. Furter’s… “tension.”

What comes next is a rollercoaster of sexploration and discovery.  This is the kitchen sink of musicals. The sudden reveal of extra-terrestrial life is never explained, and if you’re looking for a handrail to hold onto, you’re in for a rough ride. But for those with a sense of humor, who embrace the sudden turns and ludicrous twists, and the (for Stratford) shocking innuendoes, this show is a blast.

From Stage to Screen and Back Again

Rocky Horror has an atmosphere all its own, further cemented by the iconic film.  This play can’t escape the pull of the movie. Instead, it actively tries to recreate the experience. For a few bucks, you can buy a pack which includes blood red glow sticks, pink rubber gloves, coupons for a cocktail at intermission, and a newspaper which contains little in-jokes, and a shameless plug for The Music Man.  The production even goes one step further, adopting the heckling nature that made the movie such a staple of it’s time.  There is an intense, perverse, somewhat juvenile thrill watching a gaggle of geriatric women splutter with embarrassment as a man shouts “do you swallow?!” at Janet, or “how often do you jerk off?” before Brad Majors sings “from time to time.”  “I didn’t think it was going to be this!” I heard a woman say in the lobby, clutching her playbill. Good. This is a play meant shake up Shakespeare and put the ‘tit’ in ‘titillating.’

The energy of the entire production is unmatched by anything this season and director Donna Feore leaves nothing behind. The stage utilizes wonderful, electric sets by Michael Gianfracesco and L.E.D. screens with a Terry Gilliam/Monty Python aesthetic.  The costumes by Dana Osborne are cut almost literally from the same cloth as the movie, but I’m fine with that. I’ve seen Rocky Horror when it tries to be too different, and I hated it.

The cast acquit themselves more than admirably, although it’s hard to watch them without imagining the film projected behind them.  Jennifer Rider-Shaw brings a bubbling, “just screw me already!” urgency to Janet not present in the film, and Sayer Roberts plays Brad with the rigidity of a cardboard cutout.  Kimberly-Ann Truong doesn’t steal scenes so much as the play stops for her to show off her human dynamo-like energy, and Erica Peck and Robert Markus bring Broadway level vocals to their roles as Magenta and Riff Raff.  Steve Ross may have hit his peak as the Narrator, a role that no one else in Stratford could have played. But it is Dan Chameroy as Dr. Frank N. Furter who runs away with the show. As it should be. He plays the role even broader than Curry.  He’ll never match him (Curry should have won an Oscar for the role that still defines him), but Chameroy simply dares you to contradict his greatness.

Last Word on Rocky Horror

Is The Rocky Horror Show one of the best musicals ever? Possibly. The Rocky Horror Picture Show slips effortlessly into my top five film musicals of all time, right behind Sweeney Todd and just before Chicago.  What can I say?  I’m a sucker for murder musicals.

But the play stands on it’s own, not just in its specific niche, but in the whole genre.  It’s not only one of the best musicals Stratford has ever put on, it is easily the best show of the season!  The show continues until Halloween night. Go!

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