Topeka Kansas October 2010
This Show Will Make Phred Phelps Phurious!
It was either this title or something about the Wizard of Oz
Wednesday, October 6th, Play It Again Rocky had the great opportunity to see a dress rehearsal of Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show in Topeka, Kansas at The Topeka Civic Theater. Normally I don’t have time to write and post a review of the show until it is over; however, with the new site it is much easier to do this. Not to mention much easier to upload digital pictures rather than developing/scanning and all that jazz.
As we entered the theater to see the dress rehearsal we had a few minutes to visit with the show’s director, Doug Goheen, who invited us backstage while he did a few last minute tweaks to Dr. Scott’s wheelchair. He told us a bit about the theater and their selection process. Doug is a guest director for the show which is part of their studio series. A couple of times a year they do shows in the smaller studio theater that are a bit less mainstream or a bit edgier. To be honest I was a bit relieved. I saw Full Monty in their main theater and I remembered it being a very large space. I prefer Rocky in a more intimate setting. Doug also told us that he didn’t feel compelled to be influenced by the movie version of Rocky. Again, I was relieved. After all, if you want to watch the movie, well, stay home and watch it. I love the excitement of seeing a new take on a story that I love. We also visited with Adam Jenks, the theater’s resident designer and technical director. He seemed very excited about the show and was as interested in our experience with the show, and its crazy following, as we were in his set.
One of the show’s many strengths was its overall look. Whether set, costumes, hair, or makeup, it all looked great. At the top of the show there was a white scrim pulled across the stage instead of the traditional red curtain. Not only was it a nice change, but it was integral to the movie theater feel of the show’s opening number. As the Usherette sang the opening song, the Phantoms were behind the scrim holding up two giant pairs of lips that were lip syncing the backup vocals to the song. At one point the two lips became one really large singular pair of lips. Visually it looked great. Beyond the scrim the set was made up of a castle tower on either side, a striking red door in the center, at the top of a continuous set of stairs that stretched from one side of the stage to the other. Above the audience stage right was a perch for the Narrator. The costumes were clearly based on the original movie costumes but very well tailored and very flattering on those wearing them.
Musically the show was also quite good. The band sounded great. The show seemed to follow the score rather than changing it up too much with newer arrangements. The overture at the top of the show sounded a little like one of the more recent UK tour casts, but otherwise it was pretty straightforward. Britney McLeod (Janet) and Ashley Bunyar (Magenta/Usherette) stood out vocally.
Another strength of this production was its actors. There was not a single person on stage who seemed poorly cast. In fact, I would say that everyone in the show brought some serious talent to the stage. Ivory Mazur has some amazing charisma as Dr. Frank N. Furter. He commanded the stage like it was his bitch. Les Smith’s take on Riff Raff almost frightened me; there were times when it seemed as if his body was being controlled by an otherworldly master from Transylvania. Secily Rees as Columbia was like Betty Boop on crack, and I mean that in the most hysterical way. I found it very hard to take my eyes off of her, and she was constantly entertaining. Brian Roster as Rocky seemed like a young Will Forte and in my opinion was every bit as funny. I have to admit that Robb Baker as Dr. Scott is easily the funniest Dr. Scott I have seen. His facial expression and comedic timing were outstanding.
The production had some really interesting and funny moments. When Brad sings “I can see the flag fly” during There’s a Light, small flags wave from behind the door at the top of the steps. When Brad and Janet knock on the door they actually go behind it so that Riff lets them onto the stage as they enter. It was a really interesting take on the scene; I’ve never seen it done that way. Frank’s entrance was via a hydraulic lift on the other side of the red door as well. He shot right up behind the door; it was a nice effect as was the lift that brought Rocky up out of the floor at the bottom of the stairs. One of my favorite moments in Act I happened at the very end. When Frank throws his bouquet Riff catches it in a single shaft of light. It was quite endearing.
In Act II the bedroom scenes actually took place in two locations. I have never seen this before. Set-wise it looked really cool. For Once In A While the Phantoms were dressed in western apparel as if eating from cans around a fire. One played an autoharp intro to the song. I can’t tell you why it was staged that way, but I can tell you I laughed non-stop. I think my very favorite moments in the show happened in the last 15 minutes. As Dr. Scott was singing the Phantoms came out to do a fantastic choreographed wheelchair routine, when Frank throws a tantrum they all make faces and roll away quickly. My all time favorite moment in the show came from Rocky. During floor show as he sings “I’m just seven hours old” he held up 6 fingers. Between his movement, expression, and singing I couldn’t stop laughing. This show was full of actors with great comedic timing. In contrast, a dramatic moment occurs when Riff says his “They didn’t like me” line. Normally there is some sort of score behind this, as soon as he screams his line the music stopped and it was dead silent. It really emphasized his line and made me feel sorry for him.
Doug Goheen has done some amazing things with this production. I have never seen a director as calm and collected two nights before a show opens. I am sure his actors love working with him. He was very nurturing to their instincts onstage and it clearly has led to some incredible moments. I have never seen a production in which I have laughed so much in the second act. Normally, the second act is serious if not a little depressing. I left the theater laughing and felt every bit as touched by the story. Huge kudos goes to the cast, crew, and production team of this show. You all did an amazing job!