Dallas Theater Center
Directed and Choreographed by Joel Ferrell
Music Supervisor – Vonda K. Bowling
Scenic Designer – Bob Lavallee
Costume Designer – Wade Laboissonniere
Wig and Makeup Designer – Cookie Jordan
Lighting Designer – Jaymi Lee Smith
Sound Designer – Zach Williamson
Associate Choreographer – Jeremy Allen Dumont
Live Video Operator – Cheyney Coles
Stage Manager – Chris “Waffles” Wathen
CAST (in playbill order)
Morgan Mabry Mason – Janet
Alex Organ – Brad
J. Brent Alford – Narrator
Chamblee Ferguson – Riff Raff
Walter Lee – Columbia
Julie Johnson – Magenta/Usherette
Dan Domenech – Frank-N-Furter
Justin Labosco – Rocky
Liz Mikel – Eddie/Dr. Scott
Jeremy Allen Dumont, Ryan-Patrick McLaughlin, Ian Patrick Stack, Ani Celisa Vera, Shannon Walsh – Phantoms
Cloud Allen, Jamison Green, Danielle Holway, Sarah Keane, Rashaun Sibley –Transylvanians
Chris McQueen – Lead Guitar/Conductor/Ensemble
Daniel Garcia – Bass Guitar/Ensemble
Cade Sadler – Drums/Ensemble
Kwinton Gray – Keyboard/Ensemble
Ben Bohorquez – Saxophone/Ensemble
Photos by Karen Almond
Reviewed Performance 9/19/2014
Reviewed by Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Children of the 50’s and 60’s, awake and sing! Return to the time (warp) and the story and music that opened eyes, minds and closets, and allowed those of the free love generation to “surrender to absolute pleasure”, at least via the movie playing in small theatres across the country in the mid 70’s, especially in university and college towns.
Most know it as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, released in 1975 the same year as it opened on Broadway. But before the Picture Show, there was the Show, book, music and lyrics written by Richard O’Brien (Riff Raff in the film). The musical opened in 1973 in the sixty three-seat upstairs theatre at the Royal Court in London. Moving to ever-larger houses, it ran for seven years and 2,960 performances, winning the Evening Standard Award for Best Musical. Across the pond, it had a nine month run in Los Angeles, but then hit the wall in New York City (who’d have thought?), only lasting forty eight performances, even with Tony and Drama Desk nominations. Despite the NYC snub, The Rocky Horror Show has continued playing around the world, with several West End and Broadway revivals and eight UK tours.
The movie became an instant cult hit and today has a fanatic worldwide following and the title of “longest-running release in film history”. It also ranked #8 in a BBC Radio 2 listener poll of the (UK) Nation’s Number One Essential Musicals.
When you go, don’t be alarmed or insulted if asked, “Are you a virgin?” It’s just a way of finding out if you’ve ever seen the show. If you’re not seen the film, are not a Baby Boomer, or have had to find shelter under boulders, Rocky Horror Show is the brainchild of an out-of-work actor who kept busy by writing a story combining his love of science fiction, the unintended humor of B horror movies, Steve Reeves muscle films and 50’s rock and roll. A 50’s cinema usherette opens the show, guiding you into the “film”, where the Narrator tells the tale of Brad and Janet, a young couple leaving their friends’ wedding to see their old science teacher, Dr. Scott, while in town. A soon-to-be life-changing flat tire leads them to the light in the castle of one Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a cross-dressing mad scientist, along with butler/handyman Riff Raff and sister Magenta. The doctor has invited guests to his Annual Transsexual Convention and the revealing of his newest creation, Rocky Horror. Inhibitions start falling by the wayside as Brad and Janet are introduced to new-found sexual delights. With that, I’m not going to reveal more as you wouldn’t believe me anyway!
Director Joel Ferrell says of the rock ‘n roll spectacle, “The Rocky Horror Show is what happens when we start thinking of the Island of Misfit Toys as the Island of Incredibly Fabulous Toys. This insanely popular show celebrates the most unique, sexually daring and wildly funny characters ever written and gives them ‘license to thrill’”.
But please understand, dear die-hard Picture Show aficionados, this is not your college days Rocky Horror. Ferrell is bringing Dallas a new, rather free-form production of the gender-bending cult classic. No Little Nell tap dancing with gold top hat, no menacing, thin-haired Riff Raff, no overly bronzed, Adonis-esque Rocky. Outfits and props are more from Christian Grey’s closet than the colorful, camp of the convention partygoers.
Rather than the halls and rooms of an old country estate, Bob Lavallee plays within a more fun house/ sci-fi atmosphere. Midst arena seating, a revolving, dual spiral staircase platform, placed dead center, transforms into several locations. Huge “electrical rods” hang above the platform or in the scientist’s laboratory upstage, reminiscent of all those old monster flicks. Phantoms and Transylvanians hang from floor to ceiling poles or off the balcony railing. Two huge monitors hang upstage behind audience seating (a great place to be a part of the action) with an upstage balcony. Different set pieces fly in or out. Then there’s two back wall “pods” and a descending stair, like an ocean liner ramp, that raises and lowers . . . raises and lowers . . . and I hope you’re getting the drift here.
Lighting by Jaymi Lee Smith is literally all over the place, but in a spectacular, exhilarating way. A bit of lingering fog makes for crisp, sharp-angled lighting from the grid. Rows of lights encircle the first balcony like spaceship landing lights (think Close Encounters of the Third Kind). The electric rods are lit in neon or with golden orbs. Spotlights play an essential role in the design to bring focus to a particular location or as different characters take the floor with their solos. Remote and manual spots also crisscross or roam the audience that is often fully lit.
Bustiers and black leather, fishnets and flayers, stilettos and slips and sex toys, oh my! Costume Designer Wade Laboissonniere and the uncredited property designer were hard at work fully clothing and then lesser clothing the actors and musicians. I missed the campiness of the movie but the more S&M attire works equally well with Ferrell’s vision. Besides the Martian Boy Scout and Swiss yodeler outfits, black is the predominant color, so Columbia stands out in her super revealing, lime green, hooped bustier/ mini skirt and stiletto ankle boots. The matching bustier and bustle ensembs for the floor show are a showgirl’s dream, but Frank-n-Furter’s opening entrance in feathered, full-length, break-away gown with train is the real showstopper. I am afeared for the guys in heels, which by the end of the show is pretty much all of them. It’s not an easy set to maneuver barefoot much less wobbling on stilts, and I’ve not seen such large bustiers on the men since . . . well, we won’t go there. Applause for the wardrobe assistants as Laboissonniere has set innumerable quick changes for several of the actors and I never saw a malfunction, a missed item or a lost cue. Amazing.
Cookie Jordan’s makeup falls somewhere between Goth and full-on drag. The design is bold and colorful, but with detailed precision so as to be elegant if not tasteful. Jordan’s wigs are sensational, eye-catching creations. Furter’s platinum bouffants are poofy delights, but the close-cut black wig, as he strips down to reveal his true self, is truly marvelous. Columbia’s long, sleek ponytail flips around like a whip, Magenta’s hair is highly stylized and . . . magenta, and one Phantom’s long tresses I would have bet money was his own, it is that good.
Sound for Rocky Horror Show has to be at its best as the music and songs are the driving energy behind the piece. The band plays live all over the stage or in the pit just below the center platform. Actors, singers and dancers use body and/or handheld mics as they run, climb and roam all over the stage and the audience. The system has to be clockwork perfect, and except for one very brief squeal, the sound was amazingly balanced and level, and Zach Williamson deserves the credit. Sci-fi/alien/spaceship sounds and music in minor key adds a fun, quirky ambience during intermission.
Slide projections on the two back monitors are essential elements to identify the musical’s many locations, using stills of rooms decorated from the 50’s. Photos of a horror film laboratory or the famous one of moviegoers watching a film with 3D glasses remind the audience they are watching a movie. However, it’s the live video recording that takes the show to a different level by placing the usually detached audience smack dab in the middle of the action. Scenes on the platform, on the back platform or in the aisles are now up front and personal. Extreme closeups reveal more about the characters than if one was in the back row of the second balcony, making every seat a good seat. All this is handled by Cheyney Coles who deftly wanders the stage and climbs the platform, videotaping the actors and scenes so miraculously, she simply disappears. The video is never meant to be precise and accurate in zoom or focus, making expert work look amateurish, another quirky but fun effect.
The music for the musical is played by the band Foe Destroyer, its members being Chris McQueen, Daniel Garcia and Cade Sadler, along with the able assistance of Kwinton Gray and Bohorquez. These five blow the roof off the place with rock and roll vengeance and become part of the ensemble onstage as needed, playing their own unique characters that are as bizarre and becoming as the rest.
Between the first preview and opening night, Ferrell’s staging of Rocky Horror changed and tightened in several places but is still literally all over the place and sometimes not in a good way. The carousel platform, audience scenes, monitors projections from both on and backstage, and lots of comings and goings underneath the upstage balcony - all amass so a main focus is never really established at any given time. Like a three-ring circus, something is happening everywhere so that the storyline gets blurred, lines get dropped or lost, and though a wonderfully bizarre, whirlwind, it is much more fury than sound. If the overall intent is spectacle, then it’s been accomplished, but I suspect more than a few patrons will leave dazed and confused. But, on second thought, maybe that’s not such a bad thing!
Critiquing the acting is difficult as there isn’t the normal character arc found in most other plays and musicals, except for Frank-n-Furter as he discovers his trip to Earth is a one-way ticket. Yes, Brad and Janet’s relationship is measurably changed but the script doesn’t lend itself to any true, emotional, climatic (pun intended) character arc. The aliens and Phantoms pretty much stay the same throughout so really any critique is based on pure performance.
And nobody performs quite like Dan Domenech as Dr. F-n-F. Showmanship virtually oozes out of him, his stance, walk and talk making any good drag queen proud. Where Domenech shines, though, is in his genuine give and take with the audience. Charming an unsuspecting patron in full drag is a feat in itself but Domenech makes it an art. His improv with fellow actors and the audience is also something in which I’m envious as I lack that ability onstage. The whole package is simply joyous, a word I’d never think to attach to Frank-n-Furter. The fun Domenech is having onstage radiates from his face and body, and his performance leads the musical admirably.
A young couple in love, Brad and Janet are the catalyst of the story, and both Alex Organ and Morgan Mabry Mason play the epitome of naiveté. Led from one event to another, there isn’t much depth to their characters, the most changes coming from their sexual exploits with Furter. Their comedy level is subdued but still enjoyable, the biggest laughs coming from sexual pantomiming. Each has a solo or duet, their singing adequate if not memorable. The best part of their performance comes in the way they are dressed, from wedding guest attire, to hospital gowns to showgirl glam, Brad still in his tighty whities and argyle knee socks, with heels.
Rocky, played by Justin Labosco, is also a one note character, mainly a sendup of the muscle man movies O’Brien parodied. What I liked most about Labosco’s interpretation is the human emotion he attaches to Rocky as opposed to the stupid, bronzed creature of the film. Being only days old, Rocky has to learn fast, and Labosco plays on his confusion, fear and love. It makes his character more appealing and more available to the audience.
Words are hard to find to describe the dual roles Liz Mikel plays, that of monster Eddie and Dr. Scott. If the sight of her with a Mohawk, sideburns, dark eyes and five o’clock shadow, clothed in jeans and leather jacket, doesn’t elicit shock and surprise, nothing will. Mikel has a better chance developing a character with Dr. Scott, astride a mobility scooter. Her entrance and ride around the revolving platform is a riot, and Mikel’s facial expressions and comic timing are, as always, impeccable and enjoyable.
Walter Lee is one tall drink of water, as one might say in these parts. Add some stilettos and he towers over the other actors in the role of Columbia, Furter’s scorned lover and Eddie’s former girlfriend. Lee has a natural allure, carrying himself elegantly, and does a mean pratfall, twice. His presence makes eyes follow him whenever he’s onstage, and he’s just so beautiful, darn him!
Brother and sister aliens, Riff Raff and Magenta are fed up with Frank’s antics but remain for now his obedient “undocumented workers”. Julie Johnson’s role as Magenta doesn’t have much depth, but her vocals are great and her stage presence strong enough to take from Domenech on occasion. Chamblee Ferguson borrows the walk and face of Lurch and the look of some medieval peasant worker. Some of his funniest scenes are ones with no words, especially at the castle’s front door. A natural comedian, the lines he does have are wonderfully timed for maximum laughter, and on opening night he had the perfect response to an audience outburst, something that will eventually be a requirement for each person onstage as the audiences get more and more daring.
J. Brent Alford is the Narrator, a somewhat thankless role, but in his hands is one of the funnier parts of the show. Mugging into the camera or siding up against a guitarist, rock star style, Alford plays the Narrator as a bit of an Everyman, showing up in the oddest places, and he takes this fun role for a good ride.
The most important group onstage is the ensemble of Phantoms and Transylvanians that sing, dance, cavort in the audience to the extreme and keep the action flowing by moving set pieces and bringing in props. The dancers, co-choreographed and led by Jeremy Allen Dumont, are all marvelous. Representing different, sexual, role-playing characters, each actor has a firm grasp on their responsibility within the musical, and through sheer exuberance they easily reveal how much of a blast they are having.
Several articles and interviews speak of DTC Artistic Director Kevin Moriarty and Joel Ferrell’s discussions on the relevancy of Rocky Horror today. Besides being simply good fun, does it have something to say for today’s audiences? Important to him, Ferrell has openly stated that the film led a then college freshman to new thinking concerning his sexual identity. Not the only factor, of course, to determining his lifestyle choice, he said it awakened the idea of the uniqueness in people, and that his thoughts and feelings were ok and to be celebrated. DTC believes enough in the subject to include a full page listing in the playbill of the milestones in gender equality, from 1969 to the present, titled Rocky Horror, Gender Equality and Time. Not taking any political or activist stance, the theatre also doesn’t suppress or dismiss the obvious implications Richard O’Brien put into his work.
I’ve seen the film at least twenty times, most of them in that little movie house where Ferrell first saw it. Later on, I too joined those in front of the screen, repeating the lines and shouting out retorts. It was a shocker the first few viewings, to be sure, but over time it began to be just a great way to have fun and a part of this new thing we all shared. And I guess I’ve grown to be a jaded old soul, but I never thought about gender equality when seeing Rocky Horror. Maybe it’s simply that it’s not my lifestyle, my journey, but I don’t see anything grotesque or unusual. Yeah, strapped-on penises can be a bit of a wower, but not really. Haven’t there been much more graphic details on cable TV, in video games and magazines? All of this is to say, don’t be worried you are going to be pro-gay rallied or asked to make any choices other than to have a really good time.
Oh, and I don’t want to forget – the theatre has tote bags for sale, full of the props you’ll want to have to participate more fully in the fun. It’s not absolutely necessary though, as plenty will be throwing things around you during the show. They ask you not to bring your own props as no one needs to get hurt onstage by water and rice, right?!
So, loosen your inhibitions, shiver in anticipation, and come as you are or always wanted to be. The motto of The Rocky Horror Show is “Don’t Dream it, Be It”. Just imagine what could actually happen if we all took that to heart.
THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW
Dallas Theater Center
2400 Flora Street
Dallas, TX 75201
Plays through October 19th
***This musical contains adult themes, language and partial nudity. Recommended for mature high school-age children and older.
Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday at 7:30 pm, Friday-Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Saturday- Sunday at 2:00 pm. No matinee performances on Saturday, September 27th and Saturday, October 18th.
*****SPECIAL Late Night Performances on Friday, September 26th and Friday, October 17th at 11:59 pm.
Ticket prices range from $18.00 – 100.00, subject to change.
For information on the show and to purchase tickets, go to www.DallasTheaterCenter.org or call the AT&T Performing Arts Center box office at 214-880-0202.