SALT LAKE CITY — The Rocky Horror Show at Pioneer Theatre Company is dazzling this October. It is not necessary to be the “shadow audience” and know all the possible callouts and ways to participate, but PTC has made it easy to dip a toe into this show’s world of audience participation by providing a show prop kit bag for purchase. Initially, I did not bother to get one, but the people next me were so insistent that I ran and grabbed one just in time. It made all the difference.
The Rocky Horror Show (with music, lyrics, and script by Richard O’Brien) is the story of three aliens who come to Earth from the planet Transsexual in the Galaxy Transylvania and are living in a large Castle. Engaged lovebirds Brad and Janet are driving late at night in a thunderstorm to reach an old professor, Dr. Scott, when a sudden storm forces them to stop and knock at the castle door for shelter. They are ushered in by the two servant aliens, and soon the leader, Dr. Frank-N-Furter shows up. He is a transvestite and brilliant scientist who cannot resist experimenting on humans. Janet and Brad are quickly overcome by his tricks and end up losing their modesty, virginity, and personal boundaries. They try to escape, but are trapped there, along with a human created from half the brain of Eddie, professor Scott’s nephew. The Professor comes looking for Eddie and gets pulled into Frank’s schemes. All seems lost when suddenly the two subordinate aliens mutiny and take over, finally freeing the humans.
This is a cult-classic rock musical that has built up a following over the years, and many audience members go regularly and know phrases to shout at different times. PTC’s version had the narrator say some of the audience lines, like “not the rose, but the thorn,” after Dr. Scott says, “He was the thorn.” It was fun to hear the extra lines, but the audience did not know many of the heckles. So, I had to find them on YouTube after the show. I highly recommend doing some research before coming to be fully prepared for the audience participation. This show often breaks the fourth wall, giving its actors many pauses so that audience members can call out. By the end, the whole audience had figured out what to say after the narrator said “Brad,” or “Janet,” which was fun.
I was disappointed that the sound was not working so well. In a show that relies heavily on audience participation, it is vital to be able to hear every line. Janet’s microphone was not working for the entire first scene, and the live band situated on a platform upstage of the actors was often louder than the actors were speaking, especially Dr. Frank. Aaron Hubbard as the production’s sound designer was excellent incorporating the live band, but I wish he had also increased volume to the actors’ microphones.
George Maxwell‘s set design was a source of fun and creative designs that fit the show very well. I loved the wooden cutout front of the car with working headlights that looked like an approaching car in the dark. I also liked the huge gray castle door that seemed ominous as Janet and Brad approached. Maxwell ended up re-using the castle door for other locations, like the opening of the deep freezer, though that was sometimes a confusing choice. However, I absolutely loved the ending with the alien ship crossing the stage and the tiny ship flying moving across the backdrop.
Costumes (designed by Aaron Swenson) are always a big deal with The Rocky Horror Show, even if it is almost all in lingerie and drag. I was hoping for something more spectacular for Frank’s final outfit. He wore flowy white cape and robe/wrap, which looked fantastic. But he kept those on the entire time, and I never got to see his costume beneath. There were silver tassels that peaked out enticingly, but there was never a reveal. The aliens’ garb at the end looked really good, with powerful hooped metal shoulders that made them look more menacing.
The performers in this whole show were very talented. Alanna Saunders played Janet Weiss, and she had a phenomenal voice. I loved how the show gave her so many opportunities to howl and roar it out! I loved her acting too, as she was able to use her whole body to expertly navigate each scene in fear or whatever was required. Hernando Umana played Riff Raff, a subordinate alien, and he began the famous “Time Warp” song. His escalation into hard rock/metal style screeching was otherworldly (appropriately enough).
Jeremiah James as Dr. Frank-N-Furter was a great fit for the part. When he found his minions had become mutinous, he was appropriately flabbergasted. I wish his microphone had been louder, or he had enunciated better, because many of his lines were too quiet to hear or understand. He responded to a few heckles from the audience and I would have loved to hear them. But even with this limitation, James is an expert at audience interaction. For example, he said, “antici–” and the audience yelled “SAY IT!” a few times before he replied “–pation.” He capped off this sequence by applauding for the audience, acknowledging their efforts. Michael Drake played his creation of a perfect man, Rocky, and was so great at the part. He had very defined muscles, which is a must, and made the most hilarious moronic face whenever he was making a flexed muscle pose, which was most of the time.
Karen Azenberg was the production’s director and choreographer, and in that capacity, she made some fun choices. One particularly great moment occurred when the “Time Warp” dance ended and the dancers landed on their backs with arms and legs in the air shaking like dying bugs. Additionally, the tiny monitor showing the camera’s view in the castle bedrooms was acted out in the frame of a doorway for the audience to see — a clever touch. Azenberg’s blocking in the final scene with the aliens was smart and intensified the story. Azenberg is responsible for many of the opportunities for audience participation, though I wish she had stretched out the first half more and provided more pauses for the audience to fill.
Pioneer Theatre Company has a fun version of The Rocky Horror Show. I appreciated the participation bags and joining the dance at the end. Next time I see this show, I will remember to dress up!