Frank is working on an important project that he’s about to reveal on this very evening–his “creature”, the scantily clad, extremely physically fit Rocky Horror (Luke Steingruby)

“Rocky Horror” at Stray Dog is a Crowd-Pleaser, But It Works Better if You Know The Show”
October 24, 2016 by Michelle Kenyon (“Snoop”)
The Rocky Horror Show
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Richard O’Brien
Directed by Justin Been
Choreographed by Zachary Stefaniak Shaffner
Stray Dog Theatre
October 13, 2016

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Michael Juncal (center) and cast Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre
Michael Juncal (center) and cast
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre
I have a confession to make–I had never seen The Rocky Horror Show before. I hadn’t even seen the movie, the cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show, even though I had seen several clips and heard some of the songs. I felt at a distinct disadvantage when seeing the latest production at Stray Dog Theatre. Although it’s a well-staged production with a great cast and reflective of Stray Dog’s usual excellence, I think a show like this would appeal best to those who are more familiar with the material.

The point of a show like Rocky Horror is more the experience than the actual plot. It’s a funny spoof of old-fashioned horror films, with hilariously over-the-top characterizations and some fun songs and raucous, raunchy humor, but that’s not all it is. It’s an interactive show, really, and the audience participation is what makes it work best. The audience gives energy to the performers, and the whole entertainment value is enhanced, especially when audience members are reciting lines along with the performers, singing along with the songs, and shouting responses at the characters on stage. The program wisely contains instructions that differentiate the play from the film, so things like throwing things and squirting water are not permitted, but dressing up, singing along, and talking back are encouraged. It’s the kind of experience that made me wish I had seen the film, because I was just watching a lot of the time, rather than participating because I didn’t know what was supposed to happen next, and this show is best when the audience is fully engaged.

That all said, Stray Dog’s production is extremely well-staged, well-cast, and technically impressive. The story follows naive newly engaged Brad (Kevin O’Brien) and Janet (Heather Matthews) after their car breaks down late one night and they stop at the nearest castle to use the phone. There, they encounter an unusual cast of characters led by cross-dressing mad scientist Dr. Frank N. Furter (Michael Juncal). Frank is working on an important project that he’s about to reveal on this very evening–his “creature”, the scantily clad, extremely physically fit Rocky Horror (Luke Steingruby). Along with his strange and enthusiastic household staff including “handyman” Riff Raff (Corey Fraine), housemaid Magenta (Maria Bartolotta), and “groupie” Columbia (Sara Rae Womack), Frank educates Brad and Janet about his life’s work, and about… well, quite a few other subjects. Led by an enthusiastic, deadpan Narrator (Gerry Love), the story is as over-the-top and campy as one would expect, with a catchy score of well-known song such as “The Time Warp”, “Sweet Transvestite”, and “Touch-A Touch Me”.

The cast here is well-chosen and they all seem to be having a great time on stage, from the leads to the ensemble. Juncal hams it up with gleeful mischief as Frank, Matthews plays the sheltered but increasingly fascinated Janet convincingly, and she’s well-matched with O’Brien as the comically uptight Brad, and Steingruby as the eager-to-learn new creation, Rocky. There are also strong performances from Fraine and Bartolotta as the scheming Riff Raff and Magenta, and Womack as the enthusiastic Columbia. Love is also a comic treat as the narrator, and the rest of the cast is excellent as well, performing the songs with impressive presence and energy.

The staging by director Justin Been and choreography by Zachary Stefaniak Shaffner is also clever and inventive. I especially liked how the ensemble members “became” Brad and Janet’s car. Robert J. Lippert’s multi-level set is colorful and detailed, and Eileen Engel’s costumes are striking and well-suited to the characters, from Frank’s corsets to the household staff’s unique outfits to the Narrator’s military garb. There’s also excellent lighting by Tyler Duenow and a top-notch band led by music director Chris Petersen.

Rocky Horror is a funny, shocking, larger-than-life comic horror story that isn’t for all audiences (it’s definitely not for the kids), but it can be a lot of fun. I do think it will be best appreciated by those who are familiar with the material and can add to the audience participation, which contributes greatly to the fun of a show like this. Stray Dog’s production, however, is entertaining even for those who haven’t seen it before. It’s worth seeing, especially if you know what to expect.

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Cast of The Rocky Horror Show Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre
Cast of The Rocky Horror Show
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre
Stray Dog Theatre is presenting The Rocky Horror Show at Tower Grove Abbey until October 29, 2016.

Snoop’s Theatre Thoughts

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