John Szablewski Reviews

Theatre Review: Richard O’Brien’s “The Rocky Horror Show” at The Stratford Festival

The cast of “The Rocky Horror Show” at The Stratford Festival. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

I have seen a few amateur productions of “The Rocky Horror Show” that were. . .painful. I remember after the last production I saw of it, I wished that the day would come when I could see a full out professional production of the show. I knew that the script wasn’t that great, but I wanted to be amazed at what could be accomplished with a theatre company had the means to make it a real spectacle. After years of waiting and hoping, my prayers had finally been answered. That is when I traveled to The Stratford Festival in Canada and gave myself over to absolute pleasure.

. . .a perfect production.

“The Rocky Horror Show” with book, music, and lyrics by Richard O’Brien, tells the loose story of two newly engaged sweethearts, Brad (Sayer Roberts) and Janet (Jennifer Rider-Shaw), who are on their way to visit Doctor Scott (Trevor Patt), a former teacher and now friend. Their plans are put on hold when they get a flat tire and must seek refuge in a castle that they passed a few miles back. There, they find a group of odd-ball, sex-crazed, characters, including Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Dan Chameroy), a mad scientist who is creating a man named Rocky Horror (George Krissa), for his personal pleasure, Riff-Raff (Robert Markus), Magenta (Erica Peck), and Columbia (Kimberly-Ann Truong), who are all his servants, or borders as they appear. The story has plot twists, and many holes, but if you have ever seen the movie, the play actually makes more sense believe it or not. 

Theatre is suppose to create a connection between the audience and the actors on stage, and an experience is to be created that will never be remounted. Each and every performance is unique, and I can only imagine how unique the performances of “Rocky Horror” can be here. Not only are we as audience members entertained by the brilliant cast, and musicians, but the audience participation is just the icing on the cake. The smile never left my face. Listening to members of the audience yell out perfectly timed one-liners, and seeing the actors take what the audience was dishing up and work with it was magical. Sure, most of the audience contributions were raunchy and sexual, but that is all the fun! This is not a show for the meek mannered. It never has been and it hopefully never will be.

Michael Gianfrancesco’s set design is breathtaking and has so many hidden gems of excitement that you have to go see the show more than once because it is impossible to see everything that is hidden around the set the first time. The caliber of thought and quality is awesome, and it pays homage of bad 1970’s B-movies. The aesthetic is brilliant.

Intertwined into Gianfrancesco’s set is Jamie Nesbitt’s video projections. Now, projection design is a tricky business because it is easy to pull focus from the actors, but Nesbitt uses subtle imagery that is impactful and hilarious. There is a bit of a Terry Gilliam motif present in Nesbit’s design, and it is incredibly enjoyable. I also love the Pop art theme that appears as well.

Dana Osborne’s costumes are fitting (get it) for the show and uphold the expectations that are brought forth when an audience member thinks ‘Rocky Horror’ but are also new. They are fun, especially the Phantom costumes, and the Usherette who appears at the beginning to sing my favorite song “Science Fiction / Double Feature.”

Laura Burton had her work cut out for her as Music Director. Her actors have magnificent ranges and she has them show them off. Notes that I didn’t think were possible are hit in this show, as if you needed anymore reason to be blown away by this fantastic production.

It is rare that I mention the band in a review, but these musicians know how to rock out. Especially Ian Harper on Tenor Saxophone. Harper whales on that sax throughout the show and it is some of the most beautiful sax playing I have heard in a show ever. Kudos.

You couldn’t wish for a more perfect cast in this production. There is not one person who does not deserve to be on that stage. Each actor takes their character and makes it unique, but we as the audience still love it. Leading the show as Brad, Sayer Roberts is hilarious as the dorky point-dexter, and has the comedic chops to make his act two bedroom scene with Frank, one of the funniest things I have ever seen. His performance of “Once in a While” is admirable. Paired with Jennifer Rider-Shaw’s Janet, who is funny, naughty, and lovable, the two take the stage by storm and give us a performance that we are happy to witness.

Robert Markus kills it as Riff-Raff. His vocal range is so spectacular that your ears have trouble understanding that his is singing so high. His performance in “Over By The Frankenstein Place” and in “Time Warp” brought the crowd to their feet.

Erica Peck opens the show as an usherette who sings “Science Fiction / Double Feature” and returns to play Magenta. She has wonderful comedic timing and I would say she also gives Patricia Quinn (the original Usherette / Magenta) a run for her money. She is fantastic.

Steve Ross handles the audience’s heckles well as The Narrator. His facial expressions and timing are perfect for this part. Although you “boo” when he enters the stage, you are always happy to see him.

Kimberly-Ann Truong as Columbia is a great choice. She is a firecracker and is a true audience favorite. Her tap-dancing during “Time Warp” is very entertaining.

Dan Chameroy was made to play Frank-N-Furter. Not only does he possess wonderful comedic abilities, but he also hams it up on stage so incredibly well. He is able to make us laugh by the smallest physicality, especially when an audience member asked him to describe Justin Bieber during “The Charles Atlas Song.” I’m still laughing at that. His performance of “Sweet Transvestite” is top-notch. He deserves to wear those fishnets.

Director Donna Feore has mounted a perfect production. This show will go down in Stratford history as being one of the best. Take the trip to Stratford, ON, and get ready to do The Time Warp again!

Running Time: 1 Hour 56 Minutes with one 20-Minute intermission.

Advisory: Suggestive Sexual Content, Adult Themes, Language

Richard O’Brien’s “The Rocky Horror Show” runs until November 11, 2018 and is presented at The Stratford Festival in Stratford Ontario. For more information, click here.