Manhattan Kansas August 2014
It is always nice when Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show is close to home and even better when it is a solid production. A couple of weeks ago Play It Again Rocky visited The Manhattan Arts Center. If you’ve read many of my reviews you know that I enjoy when directors mix it up a bit. This show had some really interesting bits and I have to say some of the ideas I would never have thought of.
I will begin with the music. The band for this show was hot. Not only did they play the songs incredibly well but they also got the party started before hand with some live house music. Vocally there were some really strong singers in this production. Riff Raff, Randy Rhoten, had a fantastic voice. Vocally he sounded like a trained singer and used the power in his voice to add a real strength to his character. Next Columbia, Samantha Phillips, really shined. She came across as a real rock and roll singer and I could expect to find her headlining a popular local band any random weekend. For me the real musical surprise was the Usherette/Magenta played by Tyler Woods. When a production casts the opposite gender for a role you never really know what to expect. It could be done completely as a comedic device with an over the top masculine voice. It wasn’t. Tyler rocked the stage as any diva worth her shoes would. His singing was convincing enough that a few friends who saw the show had to ask me if he was a boy or a girl.
Some shows are dance heavy. Of those shows some are more modern some are very stylized of a 50s or 60s time period. Some shows have few Phantoms where others have many. This show had a large group (8) of Phantoms who danced their cute little asses off. I’m definitely not an expert on dance but it had a more modern feel and the Phantoms were one of the most fascinating things about the show. Laura Vallejo did a wonderful job with choreography. Over the three performances I watched I found myself staring at the Phantoms often. One friend who has seen a handful of Rocky productions said that the hard work of the Phantoms made this her favorite production she has seen so far. The way they were used was incredibly complementary to the show and never once distracted from the story.
The director, Penny Cullers, made some really interesting choices. As mentioned about Tyler Woods as the Usherette/Magenta was fantastic. The choice of having him play her in drag was done in a very respectful way. It definitely wasn’t done for a cheap laugh. And when Magenta cried during I’m Going Home I was completely won over. Such a simple idea and such a moving reaction. The Broadway Revival of Richard O’Brien’s the Rocky Horror Show had mannequin bodies behind red velvety fabric lining the lobby as if they were part of a living and breathing edifice. The Phantoms in this show writhed and pushed against large red panels of a spandex type material flanking each side of the stage. Visually this was really interesting and again just gave the audience another little something to look at when resting their eyes from the glitz and glamour on stage. One choice that I didn’t quite get was having Frank N. Furter speak with a deep southern accent. In my mind I reasoned that perhaps he had watched Gone With The Wind as “research” as they were traveling to Earth. It felt a bit forced in my opinion, as it just doesn’t lend itself to the idea of either Hollywood glamour or even tacky strip club. I did enjoy that during his lab speech; however, he retrieved a bottle of Miracle Whip from the refrigerator as that “spark that is the breath of life itself.” I guess with the southern accent maybe it was the key to great potato salad or something, but either way quite funny. It was even more funny when during Once In A While the Narrator grabs the jar and eats large spoonfuls from the jar as she sings with Brad. I’ve always said that with Rocky Horror (and any musical I suppose) you can really focus on any character’s story. And the end of the show I felt like we saw this in action with the character Rocky. After Columbia, Frank, and Rocky die there is a blackout before Superheroes. When the lights come up most of the characters are dead, strewn all across the stage. Brad and Janet navigate their way through the aftermath to get to one another. These obstacles and their reunion center stage really creates a beautiful moment. As the song ends the different characters all begin to slowly rise from the floor to take their exits except for Frank. Rocky goes to help him up but gets no response. Rocky shakes him and kisses him on the cheek to no avail. Finally Rocky wails in love stricken agony as he leaves the stage and many of the others are crying solemnly to themselves as they exit as well. Moments after they leave the stage Frank gasps and comes back to life. He rises from the floor stretching and proceeds to exit grabbing his jar of Miracle Whip on the way out and cackling maniacally. This ending was definitely a lot more serious than I’m used to, but I thought it was truly a unique take on things.
The show was a perfect example of how to take chances in theatre. The risk paid off with sell-out crowds. We’re definitely glad we made the trip and this show really gave us some interesting things to think about.