Kansas City Misssouri August 2002
The Minds Eye Theatre's production of The Rocky Horror Show was absolutely amazing. I am not just writing this because I am biased, though I will be the first to admit that I am. This cast took our group in as part of their own and I feel that this will probably be the most accurate critique of the show I have written, because I have so much information to pull from.
The set for this show simple but perfect. The main central area of the stage was a giant set of lips that was open to reveal a tongue coming forward as a sort of catwalk to the stage. At the end of the tongue was a piercing that was used through the show as the grill on which Janet could dry her sweater, the remote for the monitor, the transit crystal activator, etc. Behind the lips was a scaffolding rig that was used as the lab for Rocky's birth and for Transylvanians to lounge on. To the left of the lips was a freezer and ramp and to the right was the elevator. The tongue came about halfway out into the floor area, which visually helped tie the floor into the rest of the set, especially when coordinated pillows etc were strewn about.
Costumes were also tied closely with the look of the show. The color scheme for the set used lots of deep purples and reds. The costumes used a lot of black and were accented with the same reds, and purples, even a fluorescent orange was thrown in here and there for a bit of contrast. Many items were store bought but a large number of costumes were made specifically for the show. I especially liked the red, silver, and black floorshow costumes. I have always felt that it was important for the floorshow characters to match and these corsets looked beautiful. The revealing costumes were really one more way the show was tied together.
Musically the show was great. It was meant to be a Rock and Roll show and the band made sure of that. The arrangements were based on the Broadway show. The vocals in several instances were similar to it as well. Frank; however, brought an R & B quality to the music that I have never heard before. His version of I'm Going Home gave me chills (and I wasn't the only one-I heard the same thing from several audience members). Brad and Janet also had very strong voices. As the play progressed it was clear vocally that their characters were evolving. By the Floorshow they had hit full throttle. Janet blew me away with the power and control she had over her voice. It must be said that the Transylvanians were an amazing vocal talent in and of themselves. A large cast allows a great opportunity for thickening up the sound of the show. Besides being prop hands, scenery, background characters, they become a whole choir to back the principles.
It seems natural to move to the choreography next (no pun intended). Though Rocky Horror is a musical it seems rare that a production really puts enough focus on the choreography, this show was certainly an exception. Every song tells a distinct part of the whole and the choreography in this show did an exceptional job of expressing it. Right off the bat the introduction got the crowd bouncing in their seats with the Transylvanian's entrance and R-O-C-K-Y cheer. We were ready for ready for "The Master's Affair" that was to ensue. When we hit Time Warp there was so much energy; one audience member would stand to dance along and immediately half the crowd was on their feet ready to follow along. The Transylvanians were part of the choreography, filling the whole floor it was hard to tell where the actors stopped and the audience began. Again the cast was on their feet throughout much of the lab scene but especially Hot Patootie. As soon as Eddie pops out of the freezer the Transylvanians are again rocking out in a very well choreographed sequence. I am no expert on dance but I did notice that the combination of individual moves and unison moves throughout this sequence gave it a really professional look. Skipping ahead I have to say that the blocking/choreography of I'm Going Home nearly moved me to tears the first time I saw it. By the last show I saw during its run I was crying like a baby. The Transylvanians were arranged around the floor in a semi-circle facing the stage lounging on pillows. When Frank began his song one by one they came up to say goodbye till finally the floor was empty and he stood alone on the stage. It was amazing.
The acting in this show was phenomenal. The director had Transylvanians picked as understudies for Frank, Brad, Janet, Riff, Magenta, Columbia, Eddie/Dr. Scott, and the Narrator. During the midnight shows these actors took the leads and several of the leads filled in as Transylvanians. After seeing both casts perform I was impressed with this pool of talent. With several of the roles it was clear to me that casting this show must have been very difficult. In some instances I felt that though one actor had a slightly stronger voice maybe the other had a look that was a little more suited for the role. I have to say that it was truly a great show with either cast.
Frank (Aaron Tracy) had presence I did not expect, he was indeed the king of the castle, or queen as it were. He towered over everyone and still managed to have the underlying feminine edge to his role.
Brad (Darren Sextro) and Janet (Karen Jones) started out so very naïve. As the show progressed the evolution of their characters was pretty impressive. People don't realize what has to go into these roles to be believable. They were more than believable.
Riff (Jess Malloy) was very dark in his role. There was a real feel for where it was all leading to with his character. Magenta (Gayle Hutchens) on the other hand seemed to reveal more compassion toward the end. Her "I thought you liked them," and then her vocals for Science Fiction Reprise added to the sense of sadness of Brad and Janet's loss of innocence.
In many shows Columbia is grouped together closely with Riff and Magenta. I felt with this show that she (Cassandra Keenum) was very much an Earthling. She played her role very straight (unlike Little Nell who always went for the squeaky odd duck portrayal) and it really worked well.
Eddie and Dr. Scott (Cynthia Dahlberg) were really interesting. A female played the role and very well I might add. I saw a great difference in the two characters, which is not always easy for people to pull off. The Dr. Scott was absolutely hysterical.
Rocky (Justin Stewart) seems to be a difficult role to cast. I never have high expectations because so many of the Rockys have been disappointing in some way or another. Well this Rocky really fit the bill. He was built. He was vacant. But most importantly he played the baby-like innocence to the hilt.
This show's narrator (Craig Taylor Aikman) was great. Over the years this role has been played in so many different ways and many can be effective. The Narrator for this show played with the audience, as they filed in, from his perch in the audience. He was a liaison between the cast and audience, which helps a lot with interaction between the two. Besides doing a great job of relaying the integral parts his quick wit and banter with the audience was as funny as many of their AP lines.
I think the overwhelming factor in this show's success was direction. Chris King told me that he had seen the movie during the 1980s and it was very shocking to him. His goal was to make it just as shocking now and still keep the musical's integrity. It was clear right away that Chris was a huge Rocky fan himself and I think that is what makes this show different from directors who just try to tackle popular Broadway shows.
There were many things that Chris did in his direction that I feel are noteworthy. First he had a genuine understanding of the audience interaction with the show, whether by making sure the actors understood when and where they should pause or how and when to retort or incorporating the whole space of the theater to bring the audience in as close as possible. Chris put a lot of planning into the lighting and effects. The show needs a rock feel but must also have some basic effects to enhance the story. When it was decided that Rocky was not going to sing in the show one of the Transylvanians (Travis Ashmore) became his voice for both Sword of Damocles and Floorshow. Rather than using Frank to cover this as some productions have done in the past the whole scene was worked out to incorporate Travis. He became a sort of tour guide for Rocky's body during Sword of Damocles. Before the Floorshow, Travis climbed up to the Narrator's perch to interact with him a bit. When Rocky comes through the curtain for his part of the Floorshow one spotlight shines on him as the other goes to Travis who is sitting on the Narrator's lap. He sings the verse beautifully while Rocky struts his stuff. Above everything else, I think that the director's love of the show led to its success. There is a point were the mainstream glitz of Broadway can disrupt the tackiness and fun of Rocky but Chris knew how to get just the right balance. Before the last show Chris spoke to the cast about the meaning of amateur theater (rather than professional). He told them that the word amateur was derived from a Latin word meaning "for love". It is this love that made this production truly remarkable.