OGDEN — Arguably a revolutionary horror with deep, meaningful undertones or a confounding entertainment at best spectacle, The Rocky Horror Show has been pleasing and baffling audiences for over four decades. With book, music, and lyrics by Richard O’Brien, the initially poorly received show has developed a cult following that has leaked into the twenty first century. Whether looking for a raucous interactive night of laughs and thrills or an interpretation of why O’Brien wrote something so unique with such controversial vehicles such as transvestites, this script delivers. Director EB Madson’s take on The Rocky Horror Show at The Ziegfeld is no exception to the script’s potential—including prop bags, risqué humor, and the question of what does it all mean?
The Rocky Horror Show pays homage to the 1950’s rock era with a sci-fi twist and a test of gender fluidity all with a pinch of horror. Needless to say, there is a lot going on. While a bit of an overload, the chaotic approach proves a fast-paced enigmatic entertainer. The show begins by introducing Brad and Janet, a freshly betrothed pair dripping in naivety. While looking for help after their car breaks down, they find the castle of Frank N Furter, a self-proclaimed “sweet transvestite” from Transylvania. Brad and Janet are frightened by their situation considering Frank N Furter’s abhorrent staff, his sexual advances on both, and the horror of Frank N Furter’s Frankenstein-ish projects of building the perfect man.
Alas, Brad and Janet lose their innocence, join the disarray, and are front row spectators to Frank N Furter’s demise at the hands of fellow Transylvanians Riff Raff and Magenta. Although rife with themes of sex, humor, and floating sexual orientation, the audience is given a presentation of humanity through the eyes of the inhuman aliens. Frank N Furter first appears as a narcissistic type who treats others as disposable, but he just wants to be himself. The real provoking lines are often a side note from the narrator after the action with bits such as. “and crawling on the planet’s face some insects called the human race, lost in time and lost in space and meaning.”
The portrayal of this The Rocky Horror Show was very rich with color. Costume, hair, and makeup (designed by EB Madson and Becky Knowles) was vibrant with inclusions of pink hair and sassy rainbow-colored costumes. I appreciated this originality. Costume was used effectively to showcase the characters’ transitions throughout the play. Janet begins as a simple girl in a pink dress. When she is forced by Frank N Furter to strip down to her underwear, she is portrayed innocently all in white. In the end, peeled of her purity, she is dressed provocatively in the same manner as the heathen Transylvanians. In addition to the bright costume design, makeup was also an original take instead of going with the iconic rendering of Frank N Furter from the 1975 movie.
As a director, EB Madson added several original ideas to the show. I enjoyed the use of local humor with funny digs at both Ogden and Utah culture. The use of the narrator, played by Bill Allred, was executed very well. Allred was hilarious with perfect comedic timing, background dance moves, and audience interaction. True to form for Rocky Horror, EB Madson shatters the fourth wall and does so successfully. The choreography, by Bryan Andrews, was also a treat in this production. I particularly enjoyed the chorus dancing in the dark with glow sticks to, “Over at the Frankenstein place.” Also, among the wins of this production was the choice to have a live band. However, there were parts of the show in which the band overpowered some of the weaker vocalists. I struggled to hear the vocals in the opening number, “Science Fiction Double Feature.” The sound by Shea Madson and Carson Sabin is my only criticism of the production. The cast’s microphones were in and out at inappropriate times, there were a few occurrences of audio feedback, and as noted above, I missed out on some vocals due to the overpowering music.
Fortunately, sound issues or not, there were some very strong vocals that I was able to savor. Maxx Teuscher as Riff Raff had a fantastic voice. He brought a very edgy rocker side to his interpretation of Riff Raff with his parts in, “The Time Warp,” being some of my favorite. Another highlight is Kali Williams as Janet. Williams played the part believably. She portrayed Janet’s innocence and character arc to the dark side well while adding some incredible vocals along the way. Unfortunately, Bryan Andrews as Brad was not as convincing. I struggled to hear Andrews’s vocals when the music was on the loud side. His reactions to the events around his character such as Brad’s fiancé being with two other men did not seem fitting. While not necessarily a bad performance, it was a forgettable one.
The most unforgettable “creature of the night” was Jeremy Gross as Frank N Furter. Gross first appeared on stage exuding confidence and charisma with a dramatic aloofness, and it never slowed or faltered throughout the show. In the number, “Sweet Transvestite,” Gross as Frank N Furter is smooth, in control, and carefree. The way Gross entirely becomes the character by how he moves and speaks is commendable. Toward the end, as Frank N Furter is coping with betrayal, Gross delivers an emotional, “I’m Going Home.” Frank N Furter is then presented as vulnerable and angsty but still with a splash of sass and anger. I admire how Gross is able to transform Frank N Furter from antagonist to protagonist. Gross takes the character from outlandish and absurd to a human representation where he can be pitied and empathized with. Gross’s strong acting is then topped off with colossal singing and dancing. Gross as Frank N Furter exposes the fact that despite his flaws and oddities, Frank N Furter is still a person (or alien). He then delivers the affecting message that is the true theme of the play, “Don’t Dream It, Be it.”
The message of owning and being who you are and that peculiar and distinctive people are still human with emotions and feelings is what has deemed The Rocky Horror Show a respite for outcasts since its appearance. In it’s unorthodox and multi-genre fashion, The Rocky Horror Show begs questions of benevolence and meaning: or not. As an audience member, whether you search for a deeper purpose in this script or take it at face value for it’s interactive and raunchy entertainment, The Ziegfeld’s production of The Rocky Horror Show is worth a see.