Led with a brilliant performance from Brian J. Rolf as everyone's favorite alien transvestite, Frank 'N' Furter, the UMSL student cast gets an "A" for their take on this campy rock-n-roll musical. They are supported on the technical side with a student crew that makes the most of a flexible, useful stage design, including the integration of video, smoke machines, and light effects that enhance the storytelling.
To the audience's delight, Rolf's nuanced intonation, frequent quips, and double entendres were delivered with style and ease. From the moment he hit the stage, the audience recognized the familiar sass of the original and openly embraced the fresh new twists sprinkled in here and there.
Rolf is clearly familiar with the movie version of the show and the role fits him like a long satin glove. Strutting across the stage with confidence, he delivered a memorable, pitch perfect performance that he obviously enjoyed. A few lines were updated to incorporate contemporary references, but the hyper-sexualized spirit of Tim Curry's original characterization was fully present.
Nick Smith and Brianda Cepeda were charming as the newly engaged Brad and Janet. Both have bright voices and an eager appeal, helping them carry their characters with confidence through numerous changes, not to mention various states of undress. Gustavo Perez Diaz played Rocky with an ingénue like naïveté and powerful, operatic voice that was a vast improvement from the movie version. His flirtatious looks and poses added unexpected humor to the production.
Consistent with the movie, Riff Raff, his sister Magenta, and protégé Columbia seem to be in every scene, observing Frank 'N' Furter's every move and providing running commentary for the audience.
Stephen Henley, Kelsey McGuire and Christina Womack handled their characters well, and Henley's Riff-Raff was a standout performance for me. Henley commands attention from his first song, and easily morphs from a servant slithering across the stage to the confident new commander taking charge during the show's finale.
The rest of the cast, Usherette (Brittnee Chandler), the Narrator (Greg Laine), bad boy rocker Eddie (Thomas Wiggand), and Brad's mentor Dr. Scott (Grayson Jostes), all turned in solid performances. Narrator Laine effortlessly deflected the frequent audience responses to his dialogue without breaking character and Wiggand's "Hot Patootie" was an energetic romp that helped close out the first act on a high note.
The entire cast succeeded in dancing in sky-high heels, corsets, and fishnet stockings without a mishap -- not an easy task when one is frequently running from spot to spot. "The Rocky Horror Show" wouldn't be the same without an enthusiastic ensemble of Transylvanian partygoers for Frank 'N' Furter to entertain, and the supporting cast members did a nice job of filling that need with just the right mix of horror and fun.
Though the cast may be too young to fully understand the all-weekend, every weekend midnight-show experience that solidified the original film's cult status, they were definitely prepared for audience participation.
To their credit, the students never broke character or let any visible reaction to the audience banter affect their performance.
Props were not allowed in the theater, so the cast members also provided some of the typical audience touches, such as throwing toilet paper, flipping cards, and singing and dancing through the aisles. These details allowed the show to have much of the feel of the original without devolving into a complete mess.
There were pitch problems throughout the show, unfortunately; and a shift in key would have really helped a few of the performers through numbers that weren't quite in their range. It also seemed as if the students were coached to value enunciation over melody, which significantly slowed several of the songs and threatened to suck the energy out of the show.
I also question the use of accents for several of the characters. This choice, though true to the film, felt forced and unnecessary, particularly considering the importance of keeping up the pace while delivering easily understood dialogue. Additionally, I found the choreography on the dance numbers to be a bit over-simplified.
For the most part, the choreography was a minor irritation I could overlook. Not following the signature dance steps of "The Time Warp" was nearly unforgiveable, however. The steps are easy to follow, even in heels, and an iconic number in a familiar and much-loved show is best left in its original state. It's like going to the Paris review and finding out that a polka has replaced the can-can in the show. The dance isn't bad; it just isn't the one the audience came to see.
Do you long for those days when you eagerly antici-pated a midnight showing of your favorite cult movie to let out your pent up (sexual) frustration? Well, good news, Transylvanians, October is your month.
If you missed the charmingly youthful, but no-less-committed UMSL production, you can always catch one of numerous midnight movie showings during the month or the Hard Road Theatre's production the weekend of October 18th. For more information on upcoming shows, be sure to tune in to 88.1 for the KDHX Arts Calendar or visit kdhx.org/calendar/events/