At the McManus theatre, I had the *intense pleasure* of viewing a fantastic performance of the cult-classic, “Rocky Horror Show”, directed by John Pacheco, which will be running until October 29th. This ahead-of-its-time play focuses on the sexual awakening of uptight couple, Brad Majors (“ASSHOLE”) and Janet Weiss (“SLUT”) once they stumble into the raunchy abode of Frank-N-Furter, a (sweet) transvestite, and his too-close companions. The combination of costumes, live music, dancing and of course audience participation renders this play a fantabulous, singular experience (or, if you please, one that you can recreate every year)!
The costumes on stage are, of course magnificent, as costume designer Becky Lenko together with makeup designers Eva Jacomien and Janice Johnston assembled wonderful characters elaborately decked out in sequined pants, feathered boas, leather bodices, garters and fishnet tights as far as the eye can see. A tasteful splash of shimmering blue highlighter to actors’ cheeks, and collarbones gives the setting a real space-age feel. Additionally, the eye-popping colours—especially Frank-N-Furter’s rainbow tie-dye labcoat—nod towards the wide spectrum of gender identities and sexualities represented in the show.
The actors’ costumes, however, are nearly matched by those of the audience members! Being a cult classic, “Rocky Horror” does not attract a regular run-of-the-mill audience: viewers are just as (if not in some cases, more so) dressed up as the actors, sporting lace bonnets, black lipstick, and some even impersonating specific characters such as Meatloaf and Magenta. In this theatre, audience engagement is not a one-way street: these stage actors engaged with their audiences, and fed off of their energy to create an even livelier show: in addition to Riff Raff (played by Trevor Richie) involving the audience in musical numbers, the Narrator repeatedly engages with humourous “boos” from the audience, and even pauses his narrative to address spontaneous (and hilariously vulgar) outbursts head on with entertaining and improvised comebacks. McManus theatre, staying true to the spirit of the show, enhances viewers’ experience by selling “Props Bags” complete with glow sticks, rubber gloves, newspapers and more (as well as a guide about when to use them) for audience members to follow along with the show as is tradition since “Rocky Horror”’s debut. These actors truly deserve—dare I say it?—props for their ability to dodge props such as toilet paper being lobbed at their heads!
Vocally, a special shout-out is due to Riff Raff, whose crystal-clear, powerful chops stole the show. Magenta’s husky, rock-n-roll voice also stands out in every number, and her lingering solo had the crowd cheering. Although the voices of Rocky (played by Josh Carroll) and Brad (played by Patrick Avery-Kenny) may be less than professionally trained, their energy, movements and facial expressions are stellar and perfectly complimented Janet (expertly portrayed by Mara Fraccaro) who deeply explores the multiple sides to her character and reflects Janet’s transformation by graduating her high, nightingale-like vibrato to a lower sultry tone in the second half. Colombia, played by Mel Stewart, though not notable for her vocals, is an exceptional dancer—she performs a wonderful tap solo and captures your eye in every dance number (all of which she choreographed). Simon Goodwin, who plays Frank-N-Furter, though his eyes could be more animated, has a delightful resonating voice whose unearthly charm is only enhanced by an echoing microphone effect.
The set-design, though simplistic (with only a door, a couple steps, a wall with scientific machinery and two curtains on either side), sets the stage well, and allows the characters to really move around and explore their (and each other’s) bodies. An especially notable (and exceedingly humorous) staging technique is involved in the infamous bedroom scene with Brad, Janet and Frank-N-Furter—it is something that must be seen to be truly appreciated.
All these incredible elements aside, the live instrumentals alone (played in the pit, stage-right) are more than enough to pull you out of your seat and have you time-warping with the best of them; Igor Saika conducting on piano, Dereyk Goodwin on percussion, Rob Weatherstone on Bass, Jeff Lupker on Guitar, and Randy Bailey on Tenor Sax keep the show racing along at an exciting pace, and do beyond justice to the frenetic energy of this show. The only sound-related issue was of a technical nature, as the lavalier microphones at times had to compete with the instrumentals, and peaked ever so slightly in the first half, though the issue was for the most part resolved after intermission.
Although Frankfurter remarks, “It’s not easy having a good time”, a good time is guaranteed if you turn out for this production!