Kansas city Missouri April 2011
This past April Kansas City’s very own Padgett productions had a go at our favorite musical. I have seen numerous Padgett Production shows and I had pretty high expectations for this one. If it was anything like their Rent, Cabaret, or Hair I knew it would be great. I had the pleasure of meeting with the show’s director Phil Kinen as he was beginning work on the production and he had so many interesting ideas for the show that I couldn’t help but get excited about it. On opening night I saw him in the lobby before the house opened and he was very nervous-much like anyone who has ever worked on a show on opening night. As soon as the house opened the nervousness I had for him quickly disappeared. I believe that one of Nick Padgett’s greatest talents is recognizing the talent in the people he works with. This cast was assembled from some of Kansas City’s greatest local actors. I don’t think there was a weak performer in the bunch. Acting, singing and dancing, they had it all. I love Ivory’s portrayal of Frank N. Furter. Brian Shortess was great as Brad (even though he has been one of my all-time favorite Rockys). Jeff Smith seemed like a shoe-in for Rocky based on appearance alone, but he gave a truly great performance. I could go on and on about every single performer…they all did a fantastic job. And their skill on stage took away any doubt that this would be a wonderful show.
For me what makes a particularly good production are the unique “bits” that the director adds or the cast creates. This show had some beautiful moments. During “Damn It Janet,” the Phantoms were holding up signs that spelled out phrases like “Damn Janet” or “Oh Brad.” At the very end of the song we see just two letters hovering mid-stage, “BJ.” That is what it’s really about. Taking something that is there and transforming it into that sexual humor that harkens back to puberty. Creating a joke that makes you just a little embarrassed to laugh, but is just too funny to pass up. The fact that the Phantoms were all barely dressed and looking sexy didn’t hurt either.
Another great moment occurred during “There’s A Light.” At the end of Riff’s solo, instead of the usual climbing notes, he howled like a wolf. I have never seen this before, and I have seen a lot of productions. It seemed like such an obvious choice. This said a lot about Riff as a tortured monster and really helped me relate to his character.
One of my very favorite things from this production was during “Superheroes.” As the song ends the characters all find themselves very subtly arranged almost as if they are part of a wedding ceremony with Brad and Janet as the happy couple. There are a lot of directions the show can go with the ending but I thought this was really unique. Many directors chose to have Brad and Janet drift apart from one another, but in this show their shared circumstance brings them closer together. Tragedy has a way of doing that in real life, and I felt this was just one more way that this show brought the audience in.
At the end of the opening night show Brian, who was playing Brad said to me “You know Jeff, you don’t have to come to every single performance.” But the thing is, I do. This show has such an amazing way of inviting you in to care about these bizarre and wonderful characters. It is absolutely outlandish. It is absolutely impossible to believe. And when it is done right, it is absolutely impossible not to empathize with the characters. We fall in love with them despite all their faults. They remind us that we are loveable for all those same reasons. I know the show has succeeded when I feel better about myself as I walk out of the theater and I feel like the actors by virtue of their performance probably understand me as much as I understand them. This production, like so many, touched my heart. It was a success.