MINNEAPOLIS MINNESOTA JUNE 2014
Early on we knew this show was going to be a little different from many of the productions we’ve seen before. The show was being performed at a high school and although it was technically more of a community theatre production it still was comprised of high school students and recent alumni. The cast ranged from 16 to 25 years old. Their ages were in no way indicative of their talent. This was a solid production and we had a fantastic time!
There was not a bad singer in the bunch. If you’ve ever seen a production of Rocky (or anything really) you know this is rare. Typically everyone in a show has something that lands them their role, and it isn’t always their singing. Sometimes a person’s look or line reading is as much the reason they get a part as anything. This cast sounded amazing! To make this even more impressive the show was put together in about three weeks. According to director John Lynn the idea of a summer production came up because the auditorium had just installed air conditioning. One thing lead to another and they found themselves putting together their first summer production at the school and they had about three weeks to do it. Some of my favorite vocal moments were Riff Raff, Eric Heltemes’, solo in There’s A Light. His soft and sincere voice really added to the character and let the audience see him as more than the usual angry subservient butler. During Planet Schmanet Janet, Rush Benson had a scat solo. I have never heard this done before and although it caught me off guard I loved it. Brad’s Once In A While was beautifully done by Collin Smith. This can be one of my favorite songs in a show if it is done well, and in this case it was. Collin has a great voice and it fit his character well.
Some shows are more dance heavy than others. This cast was willing and able. Aside from playing Frank, Rush also choreographed the show. He achieved a great balance between movement and dance and the show felt very natural. Columbia’s tap solo during Time Warp was changed to a group step routine led by her. During I’m Going Home, Frank donned ballet slippers and danced en pointe. I found this particularly fascinating and it really took the idea of gender roles and perceptions even beyond what Rocky normally does. Rush was incredibly believable as Frank. His seductions of Brad and Janet were both convincing. As he danced in his slippers (accented in pink) he was 100% man. There are so many productions that miss this mark. My least favorite shows have always been ones that portray Frank as delicate. He is not meant to be overly feminine. His seduction of, and interest in, Janet needs to seem real. No matter how outrageous he is, the audience has to be able to relate on at least the tiniest level. Clearly John Lynn and Rush Benson both get that, and it was a large factor in the success of the story they told.
The set and lighting were quite good. Putting together a show in three weeks clearly is a lot of work. Designing a set, props, lighting in three weeks is nearly impossible. The production made use of rolling scaffolding units that harken back to the original production in the Theatre Upstairs in London. Draped curtains, electrical lines, and a few moveable set pieces made up the majority of the set. Much of the set pieces were covered in bubble wrap indicating to me that they had just moved into the castle or perhaps were worried about contents shifting during their trip from Transsexual Transylvania. The set was mostly dark with accents of color here and there. The lighting initially seemed really subtle but as I further examined it in my photos I was even more impressed. A great deal of depth was added to the stage through lighting and it really helped to create the mood of the show.
Costumes were simple and effective. Nothing terribly outrageous, but it was all flattering to say the least. Basic black on Magenta, Lydia Wagner, always in style and always a classic look. Her hair contrasted beautifully with it. Eddie, Dylan Cima, also wore black in the form of jeans and a vest with a bloody white bandage for contrast. It was incredibly flattering on him. Dr. Scott, Tryg Johnson, was a little more colorful than the typical red plaid blanket usually used, and I loved his colorful stockings at the end. Brad and Janet’s pink and blue were incredibly fitting and really made them look like an old fashioned hand-colored photo. The Phantoms’ costumes made me feel like a dirty old man, and I suppose that is a testament to their success.
If you’ve read many of my Rocky write-ups, you know my favorite things about a show are the little added tidbits created by directors, and sometimes actors, that make a show different from the others. This show, as you might imagine, had a few of those moments. I’ve already mentioned Frank’s scat singing and en pointe dancing. Frank’s entrance was also a bit unusual. As Sweet Transvestite starts he is lowered down on a hydraulic lift to the top of a scaffolding platform. From the platform he further slides down to the stage via a large electric cable. Once he throws off his cape he proceeds to discard the wig he is wearing becoming even more male in his character. When Eddie enters for Hot Patootie he hops onto the stage in a bodybag. After Columbia helps him exit the bag he of course sings and then Frank chases and dispatches him quickly with the use of a shovel while donning a bondagey (is that a word?) looking welding mask. One of my favorite things from the show happens in I’m Going Home. Frank walks into the audience as he is singing to take some selfies with various audience members. As he rises to go back to the stage he swipes a purse from one of the audience members. He proceeds to model the bag as he finishes the song and then when he is hit with the laser he flails around the stage and back to hand the bag to the audience member before dying in very dramatic fashion.
This show was an extremely strong production all the way around, but it must be said that the thing I enjoyed most and will remember most about this production is its heart. I’ve worked on many shows and directed many at the school where I work and it is so incredibly clear that young people just “get it.” Theatre is so much bigger than could ever be imagined by the “non-initiated.” When you take on a show you have the chance to do many things to hone your craft, but how you change your audience and how you grow internally are monumental. The bond formed among this group was evident after performances and it was so much fun to watch them interact with the audience, each other, and the crew. Watching so many of their parents become Rocky fans showed evidence of their ability to give something meaningful to the audience. Yes, the show is organized chaos. Yes, the show is confusing when first viewed. This show, however, speaks volumes on the human condition and the need to be accepted. Whether they know it or not, this group understands that. Thank you Minnesota you’ve been good to us. And thank you to John Lynn, the cast and crew of the Rocky Horror Show, your wonderful parents, and your audiences. You’ve shown us that “Minnesota nice” is a real and beautiful thing.