Once more: Let’s do the time warp again. Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show is on the boards at Stray Dog Theatre. To my knowledge, this is the first time a theater program in St. Louis has admonished audience members not to squirt anything. Artistic director Gary Bell, in his pre-show announcements, also asks the audience not to throw things.
Perhaps the instructions surprise you. That means you aren’t acquainted with this particular piece of work. Rocky Horror, as it’s generally referred to, began in London in 1973 as a stage show. Within two years, it had been turned into a movie, and became one of those underground-ish phenomenons that exploded. A weekly midnight showing went on for years in many cities. Here in St. Louis, it was at the Varsity and continued for more than a decade, including one person closely related to me. Audiences often wore costumes and shouted responses or chanted lines to, or along with, the characters. It became participatory cinema, including various things, dry and wet, used as (presumably amiable) projectiles.
It’s a camp take-off on science fiction B movies, something director Justin Been utilizes even pre-show, with clips of trailers for just those sort of films. Cast members called Phantoms, who are, in effect, the chorus, roam the audience, giving an opportunity to see more closely Eileen Engel’s costumes.
A young couple’s car breaks down on a lonely road. Janet and Brad are played by Heather Matthews and Kevin O’Brien, who absolutely own their roles, playing them as slightly more mature than the barely-post-adolescent style often thought of here. O’Brien’s Brad, in particular, seems a grounded, reliable, salt-of-the-earth type of guy. They hoof it to the nearest house, which, of course, turns out to be a Rob Lippert-created castle with all sorts of stairs and crevices, fun and fascinating.
They first meet the staff, headed up by Corey Fraine as Riff Raff, the butler, a wonderfully slinking portrayal. His sidekicks, Maria Bartolotta as Magenta and Sara Rae Womack, are delightful, too, both with fine voices.
And then the head of the household appears. Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter, who declares himself a “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania”, is Michael Juncal, almost illegally fun to watch.
The evening is a bawdy romp. Forty years ago, when this show was still new, the sexual references here were startling, and it’s still not a show for children. But the staging is wonderful – in particular, pay attention to how they create Brad and Janet’s automobile. The audience responses do impede on lines, so be prepared for that, and some folks do sing along with the band, which is front and center here. While that’s fun, it impairs understanding some of the funny lyrics.
Obviously The Faithful are pouring in to see the show. This weekend is sold out completely, so move quickly to get tickets. Even if you’re not an Old Hand, it’s a fun evening.
Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show
through October 29
Stray Dog Theatre
Tower Grove Abbey