Talkin’ Broadway Review: The Rocky Horror Show

Luke Steingruby has sprouted golden blond hair to play the title role, a naïf in the body of a young David. His singing and acting are both top-notch too, as he transitions from uneasy boy-toy (with Frank) to eager adventurer (with Janet), and ultimately into his own troubled awakening.

The Rocky Horror Show
Stray Dog Theatre
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard’s recent review Macbeth


Michael Juncal, Corey Frain (obscured),
Stephen Henley, Maria Bartolotta,
Sara Rae Womack, Heather Matthews,
Kevin O’Brien and Cast

Photo by John Lamb

One thing you can say about theater people: they don’t put out the Halloween candy till October.

This new staging of Richard O’Brien’s famed rock musical, which goes from 1950s rock to rock ballads to rock anthems and all the way to 1970s glam, is great fun, and super-danceable too, set in a towering madhouse of gothic castle. Justin Been directs, finding laughs in unexpected places, and altering the tenor of a couple of characters to make it fresh and new. Audience shout-outs are welcome, but leave the squirt-guns and lighters at home.

Michael Juncal, a performer of neverending wit and resolve, is Frank ‘N’ Furter, the evil genius at the center of it all. And he ad-libbed a “shout-out” of his own, right back at one exceedingly well-rehearsed fan in the audience, late in the action on the first Friday night, triggering a good laugh. This Frank goes wigless, which adds a sort of hardened, Bond-villain demeanor to the character, though it’s one Mr. Juncal is perfectly delightful in cultivating.

He sings with great resourcefulness too, though he and the rest of the cast are dwarfed in the vocal department by this show’s Janet Weiss (lovely Heather Matthews) and Magenta (lovely Maria Bartolotta). Corey Frain, who was so touching in Stray Dog’s recent Bat Boy, also makes an excellent high-tenor Riff Raff, and nails every dark moment of the original “handyman” (author Richard O’Brien) in the meantime.

But wait, there’s another O’Brien—this show’s Brad Majors, played by Kevin O’Brien. He starts out as an ultra-staid artifact of the 1950s: you can almost see the name “Levittown” emblazoned on his forehead, behind those horn-rimmed glasses. Then later, as most of us know, Brad must experience the sexual revolution, that many young baby boomers were already experiencing, when Rocky Horror first premiered in London in 1973. It’s a strangely powerful (and even disturbing) awakening in Kevin O’Brien’s iteration—just as stunning, but quite different, from Janet’s (Ms. Matthews’) own: she’s completely exuberant in her newly liberated “act two” self, until the morning after.

By far the most experienced man on stage, Gerry Love, is a completely re-imagined Narrator, the stern voice of moral authority (played by Charles Gray in the 1975 movie version of this musical—Mr. Gray was also a Bond villain in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, for those of you keeping track). Mr. Love’s Narrator is an Army officer from the American South, in camo-fatigues, collecting precious bodily fluids along the way as part of some super-secret government project.

Sara Rae Womack is excellent as Columbia, the human girl drawn into Frank’s own web of sin, and Michael A. Wells (who first performed in a Rocky Horror Show in 2003, if memory serves) is full of the spirit of Jerry Lee Lewis as Eddie (then later a great rueful and incisive Dr. Scott).

Luke Steingruby has sprouted golden blond hair to play the title role, a naïf in the body of a young David. His singing and acting are both top-notch too, as he transitions from uneasy boy-toy (with Frank) to eager adventurer (with Janet), and ultimately into his own troubled awakening.

Overall, it’s not as wistful as some previous productions, perhaps a bit more hard-driving and deterministic, as if the world-changing nature of the subject matter were a fait accompli. But everyone under Mr. Been’s direction (including the excellent cast of “phantoms”) sings and acts so well, it seems like they’ve had years to hone their characters, with all the combined knowledge and experience of every other Brad and Janet and Frank and Riff magically passed down to them in a liquid genetic solution of some kind.

But of course, that can’t really be true, can it? They’d have to have developed some futuristic transducer, of some sort, to defy time and space! And no such thing exists on this island Earth…

Before the show there are lots of great old movie trailers, putting us in the mindset of a 1950s drive-in, with “hair-raising” sci-fi previews. But somehow it’s the strange (authentic) ’50’s op-art cartoon ads for snacks at intermission that actually do scare us: leukemia-licious hot dogs and sugar-laden soft drinks, and big cups of popcorn, doused in pitchers of melted butter, dancing like clumsy monsters on the big screen.

The sci-fi previews are lovingly pieced together to remind us of the atmosphere of the times, during the Red Scare. It was not only an anti-Communist, right-wing movement that destroyed many careers, but it also became the subtext for movies like Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and Them. Movies like that inspired Rocky Horror, but here space aliens are blamed for a very different kind of “scare”: the whole sexual revolution to come in the ’60s and ’70s. It’s a show that perfectly captures that 1950s air of ruinous suspicion and post-war fear of moral ambiguity—all while managing to be a lot of silly, sexy fun.

Chris Petersen’s band is immaculate in all the many forms of rock ‘n’ roll the show demands, and that towering set becomes an impossible Matterhorn of dangers and delights, thanks to designer Robert J. Lippert.

Through October 29, 2016, with added performances the final weekend on Wednesday night and Saturday afternoon at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave. For more information visit www.straydogtheatre.org.

Cast, in order of appearance
Usherette: Maria Bartolotta
Janet Weiss: Heather Matthews
Brad Majors: Kevin O’Brien
The Narrator: Gerry Love
Riff Raff: Corey Fraine
Magenta: Maria Barolotta
Columbia: Sara Rae Womack
Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter: Michael Juncal
Rocky Horror: Luke Steingruby
Eddie: Michael A. Wells
Dr. Everett Scott: Michael A. Wells
Phantoms: Angela Bubash, Ted Drury, Stephen Henley, Tim Kaniecki, Sarah Polizzi, Dawn Schmid

Artistic Staff
Director: Justin Been
Artistic Director: Gary F. Bell
Assistant Director: Robert M. Kapeler
Assistant Stage Manager: Angel Khann
Costume Designer: Eileen Engel
Choreographer: Zachary Stefaniak Shaffner
Lighting Designer: Tyler Duenow
Music Director: Chris Petersen
Scenic Designer: Rob J. Lippert

The Band
AJ Lane: Guitar
Bob McMahon: Drums
Chris Petersen: Music Director/Piano
M. Joshua Ryan: Bass

Talkin’ Broadway

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Stage Door St. Louis Review: The Rocky Horror Show

Luke Steingruby makes a svelte and tanned Rocky- the creation of and lusted after by Juncal’s Frank ‘N’ Furter- though he finds Janet (Slut) a bit more to his liking.

All Hail “The Rocky Horror Show” As Stray Dog Opens Their New Season

October 17, 2016 

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Nothing says Fall and Halloween better than a production of “The Rocky Horror Show” and Stray Dog brings it back with all of the zaniness, crowd reactions and scantily clad lads and lassies. If you’re familiar with the stage show or the movie (and who isn’t?), you’ll have a great time. If this is your “first time,” the audience alone will draw you in because you may miss most of the song lyrics due to some poor diction and the on stage band.

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But don’t let that little problem hold you back- this show is wild and chaotic and, at Stray Dog, it’s all over the place. Willing or unwilling audience participation is the order of the night as the actors often get up close and personal and, of course, the audience often talks back especially to yell “Asshole” every time Brad is mentioned and “Slut” every time Janet’s name crosses someone’s lips. That’s why “Rocky Horror” is more of an event than a play or musical. Program no-no’s may prevent what you often get away with watching the movie (which an awful lot of people did at midnight showings for over two decades) like shooting water pistols, lighting up lighters or other things that could impinge on an already hectic show. But all the fun and nonsensical plot twists are there along with big numbers like “The Time Warp,” “Hot Patootie” and “Science Fiction.”

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Michael Juncal leads the way as Frank ‘N’ Furter- the “Sweet Transvestite From Transexual Transylvania” as his large frame bounces around the stage in lab coat or corset. He leads an alien race, don’t you know, who have come to keep Earthlings from destroying their own planet. Meanwhile, Brad (Asshole) and Janet (Slut) have car trouble and stumble on his castle and all of the crazy inhabitants.

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Kevin O’Brien plays the nerdy Brad (Asshole) and Heather Matthews makes a lovely Janet (Slut). They soon loose their inhibitions as the crew of Phantoms release their libidos. Luke Steingruby makes a svelte and tanned Rocky- the creation of and lusted after by Juncal’s Frank ‘N’ Furter- though he finds Janet (Slut) a bit more to his liking. Corey Fraine, after his limber portrayal of Bat Boy last season, returns to play the equally flexible and over zealous Riff Raff. Michael A Wells plays the rocker Eddie and returns later as the inimitable Dr. Everett Scott.

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Maria Bartolotta does a great job as Magenta and the Usherette who opens and closes the show and Sara Rae Womack is a delightful Columbia. Always crisp, clear and concise is the wonderful Gerry Love as the Narrator. The ensemble of Phantoms is terrific as they mingle before the show and, as I said, have a lot of interaction with the audience during the performance.

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Justin Been has directed with a real flair for what makes this show tick. He pulls out all the stops and then goes a bit further. It’s a wild, controlled evening that never lets up. Chris Petersen leads the Stray Dog band and, besides occasionally drowning out the often clever lyrics, they do a great job of keeping the place rocking. Rob Lippert does his usual masterful job of creating the proper set including the screen that drops down to show before performance, during intermission and at curtain call scenes from some of the tackiest horror shows ever written. Tyler Duenow creates the mood with his lighting design and Eileen Engel’s costumes hit the right mark. Rounding out the creative team is choreographer Zachary Stefaniak Shaffner who plows through this iconic show with excellent movement and just the right touch of bawdiness.

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You know you want to see it. “The Rocky Horror Show” at Stray Dog Theatre is just crazy, nasty fun. It plays through Halloween Eve Eve- October 29th. So give them a call at 314-865-1995 to get in on the action.

Stage Door St. Louis