Reviewed by Tom Lawler
Before 1975’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show became a collegiate coming-of-age ritual and the longest-running midnight movie of all time (and still counting), it was a stage production that originated in London. While it’s impossible to recreate how fresh, exciting and dangerous Dr. Frank-N-Furter and company appeared to those British audiences in the mid-70s, seeing pH Productions’ spirited, gothy staging of The Rocky Horror Show reminds us of the enduring power of this work.
Let’s start with the songs. “Science Fiction Double Feature,” “Dammit, Janet!” and “Time Warp” – and that’s just the first 15 minutes of this show! Richard O’Brien’s monster soundtrack is worth admission alone, but luckily Rocky Horror director Amy Couey and musical director Brad Kemp have assembled a spunky, charming cast backed by a live band and a gothy, honey-voiced trio of backing singers to bring this production to life.
Notable performances include Brett Mannes and Shanna Berry as the virginal Brad Majors and Janet Weiss. As noted in the program, Mannes has dreamed of playing this role “since the 8th grade” and his knowingly campy line readings, singing and choreography are pitched perfectly. As for Berry, you actually have to blink the first few times you see her since the resemblance to a young Susan Sarandon is so startling – and her acting and singing is every bit the match. Seeing this dynamic duo sink their teeth into the ‘50s musical theater cheese of “Dammit, Janet!” is pure bliss. (Note: All female roles in Rocky Horror have been double cast, so the role of Janet is alternated between Ms. Berry and Tristan Tanner, who is no doubt up to the task as well.)
Other cast highlights: Patrick Serranos’s Riff-Raff (by way of Nosferatu), Austin Campion and his dry Phil Hartman-like line readings as Rocky, and Brad Kemp – doing impressive double duty here as both the keyboardist/bandleader and our offbeat Narrator. The statuesque Jake Farrington certainly makes for an alluring Dr. Frank-N-Furter, and while his Continental elocutions are perfect, one hopes he can tap into a little more menace and power for his vampy songs. One has the deepest sympathy, however, for anyone trying to fill Tim Curry’s stilettos.
Seeing Rocky Horror for the first time in years also reveals fresh insights and questions:
- Dr. Frank-N-Furter is obviously a tragic, villainous figure who simply needs love and is rejected by the golden boy he created for just this purpose. Is it a failing of Richard O’Brien’s script then that this character is so monstrous that we can’t sympathize with F-N-F at all?
- Why all of the slut-shaming for Janet when Brad gets off the hook completely for his same-sex adventure?
- Where do Brad and Janet go from here in their relationship?
As with the midnight screenings, full audience interaction and call-backs are encouraged. Toilet paper was passed out at one point for anyone who didn’t come prepared with their own props, and because pH is a BYOB theater and this cast will feast off of your energy, a six pack or two will surely be your best accessory of all.
pH Productions presents The Rocky Horror Show
Running Time: Two hours with one 10-minute intermission.
At The pH Comedy Theater, 1515 W. Berwyn Ave
Written by Richard O’Brien
Directed by Amy Couey
Musical direction by Brad Kemp
Choreography by Trent Oldham
Fridays and Saturdays at 9:30pm (Special Halloween performance on Thursday, October 31
Through November 16
Buy tickets at whatisph.com or call 773-961-8214.