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Review: THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW at The Desert Rose Playhouse is Campy, Bloody Fun.

Desert Rose has a rollicking take on the old monstrosity.

Review: THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW at The Desert Rose Playhouse is Campy, Bloody Fun.

I give the Desert Rose Playhouse kudos for its fantastic production of Richard O'Brien's bloody cult classic, THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, a musical of which I am most definitely NOT a fan. However, for the many people in Southern California who adore the monstrous show (in my opinion, it is monstrous figuratively, as well as literally) or its film adaptation, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, I urge you to buy tickets before the run sells out, as it deserves to do.

The ridiculous story is a send-up of mid-20th century B movies, or perhaps what I'd call "C movies" - those that are supposed to terrify the audience members, but instead, send them into peals of laughter because their production values are horrendous. ROCKY HORROR, which is loaded with every cliche found in such movies, also manages to get a few digs in at MGM's lavishly-costumed musicals of the 1930's and 40's, with its complicated musical numbers and garish costumes. The Desert Rose presentation closely tracks the movie, albeit with some updated references.

The production is historic for Desert Rose; it is the first of the company's shows to be directed by a female - two, in this case, Phylicia Mason and Rebecca Rodriguez, who additionally collaborated on the choreography. Ms. Mason, who also plays Janet, is well-known to Coachella Valley audiences. Her co-director, who is part of the ensemble, is less well-known, but I expect that her relative anonymity will not last long, after the word gets out about how the team aced their twin tasks. (Disclosure: Rebecca and I were former classmates at College of the Desert. I have also worked with Phylicia Mason, as well as most of the cast).

Review: THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW at The Desert Rose Playhouse is Campy, Bloody Fun.

This is the largest cast that has appeared in a Desert Rose production, enabling the directors/choreographers to use the curtained stage in ways that would have been impossible in the old venue. The dancers' moves and stationary poses are always imaginative and often hilarious; for example, a doorway is delineated solely by the ensemble members in some difficult-to-maintain - and amusing - positions. Janet's happy dance when Brad (John Corr) presents her with an engagement ring is very funny, as are the movement of the windshield wipers and rapidly flattening tire early in Act I. Much to my delight, people substitute creatively for props, scenery, and special effects throughout the show. The staging is creative as well, making great use of the house balcony near stage right. And the directors' choice to have the performers (especially the "phantoms," as the ensemble members are called) make use of the center aisle and the side-to-side aisle behind the individual seats is inspired.

The television monitors figure heavily in the 46-year-old movie. Here, they are updated to flat screen TVs, with wireless remotes. However, the videos are black and white, and retain the lines and snow of old analog, picture-tube sets. (Spoiler alert) Although the sex videos, none of them explicit, are all funny, do not miss the one featuring Janet and Rocky, which had the audience laughing uproariously. (End spoiler).

One problem facing any performer playing Frank N. Furter, the nightmare-inducing, bisexual, leather, cross-dressing visitor from outer space, is that the individual is likely to be judged against the legendary Tim Curry, who originated the role and reprised it in the 1975 movie. Robbie Wayne, Desert Rose's artistic director, who plays Frank, is an able successor. Mr. Wayne has a lovely voice and terrific moves, as well as the acting chops to completely shed his dignity. Mr. Wayne's Frank comes across as a hot, slightly lovable, evil sicko - the perfect characterization.

Despite the centrality of Frank N. Furter, THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW is otherwise an ensemble musical, with even minor characters having at least a small dance break and vocal solo. All of them, without exception, perform their parts expertly and enthusiastically, with what one of my theatre instructors would call "honest energy." Furthermore, their characterizations contrast perfectly with each other. Ms. Mason and John Corr (Brad) manage to pull off with straight faces the idiocy that their roles require, as two shallow, entitled, wealthy, yet innocent White kids. In contrast, Richard Marlow (Narrator), who is anything but pompous in real life, affects the perfect voice and bearing to come across as a self-important jerk. Ben Reece, another real-life nice guy, is absolutely terrifying as the cold-as-ice Riff-Raff. April Mejia (Usherette), Lizzy Schmelling (Magenta), and Alisha Bates (Columbia) are fabulous in their numbers. Christian Quevedo (Dr. Scott) has a song with the Phantoms that he, too, aces. And what can anyone say about the gorgeous Vernon Spence (Rocky), who, sings, dances, and acts as if he were a full-time performer instead of a real estate agent? C'mon man, why aren't you trying to get into films? The ensemble members (the Phantoms), Cameron Merrihew, August Pearson, Keivan Safavi, and Raul Ramiro Valenzuela, are also terrific in their roles, which consist of singing, dancing, some acting, and comedy.

I love the sets (designed by Matthew McLean), which the Phantoms push on and off-stage in view of the audience. The sets' low-tech nature and their deliberate resemblance to scenery for a middle-school theatre production boosts the campiness of the show - painting flats with odd shapes and then filling the outlines in with streaks and gaps and attaching metal dryer conduit to the machine used to create Rocky are inspired choices. Nick Wass, who designed the audio and video, as well as the special effects, managed to recreate one of the old science fiction horror classics. (Spoiler alert) I don't know if he or Mr. McLean had the idea to make some of the scenery look like simply decorated flats in an amateur production but it was very much a surprise when the wheels started turning on the "flats" or blood splashed.

Review: THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW at The Desert Rose Playhouse is Campy, Bloody Fun.

John Hamilton Palmer and Matthew Myers designed the costumes, which combine the silliest ones in the original STAR TREK with a BDSM leather look and even, the get-ups of the Village People. Despite the out-there costuming, I think that one of the funniest costumes is the one Brad wears at the beginning of the show; his outfit is far more nerdy than even in the movie.

Finally, music director Jaci Davis did a fine job with the live combo, which consists of bassist Larry Holloway, guitarist John Pagels, and drummer David Bronson.

I only noticed a few minor flaws in the production. The sound was not always balanced perfectly, making it hard to hear some of the singing (although most of the time, the problems were corrected right away). Also, some of the performers spoke too fast. Finally, it was difficult to see the action involving the hapless Eddie, even though I was seated at the intersection of both aisles.

The rest of the production staff consists of executive producer Robbie Wayne, producing partner Scott Murchinson, lighting designer Duke Core, audio engineer and lighting tech Kevin O'Shaughnessy, follow spot operators Alexa Ottoson and Mariah Pryor, stage manager Nathan Cox, front of house manager Melanie Blue, and producer's assistant Rhiannon Bill.

THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW will run through September 12th, with performances Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. Call-outs are permitted, although throwing things is not. If you are a fan of either the musical or the movie, I highly recommend this first-rate production.

The Desert Rose Playhouse has moved to 611 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, in the same shopping center as the Palm Springs Revivals. Tickets are available at, or by calling the box office at 760-202-3000. Individual seats are $34-$37. High-top tables (which seat four people) and VIP couches (which seat two to three) are $175.

Desert Rose's schedule for the rest of the year consists of:

Xanadu, September 30-October 17, 2021.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, November 4-November 21, 2021.

Christmas with the Crawfords, December 9-December 26, 2021 (return engagement).

From This Author - Audrey Liebross

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