BWW Review: Inclusivity raises up a roaring production of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW
THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, produced by Hart House Theatre and directed by Jennifer Walls, takes everything fans love about the cult classic musical and film and brings it to glorious, vulgar life on stage.
The beloved story opens on the recently engaged Brad (William Mackenzie) and Janet (Katie Miller), who become stranded in the middle of nowhere on a cold, stormy night after their car breaks down. They head to a castle they had passed by to use the phone, but this is where any similarities to the cliché horror story end. They're brought into the castle by a motley crew of servants, led by siblings Riff Raff (Ian Backstrom) and Magenta (Rachel Hart, who also plays an Usherette at the start and end of the show) where they witness first hand the creation of new life by the master of the house, self-proclaimed sweet transvestite scientist Frank 'N' Furter (Chris Tsujiuchi).
The couple and audience are dragged into the action right away. Cast members seated in the audience set the tone for participation, which is carried on by audience members who aren't new to the ROCKY HORROR rodeo. This iteration of the show benefits most from its inclusive casting; where traditionally many of the main roles are filled by thin white actors, Walls's production finds strength in its actor's diversity. The cast's innate skill, paired with colourful, sometimes glow-in-the dark makeup (makeup design by Bebe Brunjes) and costumes (costume design by Kathleen Black) make this ROCKY HORROR SHOW as much fun to look at as it is to listen to.
As the ringleader of the show, Tsujiuchi settles on a more subdued version of the scientist from Transsexual, Transylvania. His dry humour is a nice respite from the zaniness of the rest of the ensemble, even if it sometimes feels flat against the energy of the ensemble. His powerhouse vocals don't hurt either-his gorgeous rendition of 'I'm Going Home' suits Tsujiuchi's toned down approach and soaring voice. He takes advantage of improv moments to great effect.
Mackenzie and Miller are fantastic as the All-American couple Brad and Janet, with both navigating their character's constant development with comedy and killer vocals. Rocky (Chiano Panth) is a ball of pure sunshine, endearing innocence, and rippling muscles that will leave you wondering what he's doing at the gym that you aren't.
Backstrom's Riff Raff pays homage to the stereotypical henchman, as he skitters around the set and tears up the infamous 'Time Warp' number. As his sister Magenta, Hart is a total scene-stealer; her wide-eyed stare is creepy, and she plays for the back row in the best possible way. Although only featured in one number, Eddie (Aaron Cadesky) does a great job of boosting the energy on stage, and his sympathetic former love Columbia (Becka Jay) brings a lot of heart to the story.
With a story so based on chaos, primitivity, and passion, there's a need for someone to hold it all together and help the audience make sense of it. This does not come from the Narrator (Heidi Michelle Thomas), although she is the unexpected standout of the show. From the first moment she steps onstage with drink in hand until her final exit Thomas is a boozy, chaotic dominatrix who seems to be using the narrative as fuel for her own personal night out-but no matter how much she staggers around the stage, her voice is solid and tinged with dark humour like a well-aged red.
Given its foundations as an exploration of sexual experimentation and liberation, ROCKY HORROR is undeniably a raunchy, explicit show; but with the inclusive casting in Hart House's production, there's a little more added to that concept. It's not just a story about white people who fit the conventional standard of beauty. Wells, her cast, and the creative team find beauty in the differences between people, which is something more staged productions of classic content could learn from. At the end of the day, this production of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW will leave you wishing you could do the 'Time Warp' for real, go back to the start, and watch it all again.
Hart House Theatre's THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW runs through October 12 at the Hart House Theatre, 7 Hart House Cir, Toronto, ON.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://harthouse.ca/theatre/show/the-rocky-horror-show-2019
Photo credit: Scott Gorman