Out Loud usually does serious theater, but The Rocky Horror Show is not intended to be taken seriously.
When it first hit the London stage in 1973, it was an obscure production in a small attic performance space, about as far off-off-off-Broadway as possible, but it became a surprise must-see hit for everyone who had been anyone in Swinging London. The original company had artistic roots in the King’s Road proto-punk scene that a few years later would bring first-wave punk to public attention, giving birth to bands such as the Sex Pistols. Hurling itself against every sacred cow it could find, dressing male characters in high heels and corsets, the show reveled in flouting ’70s-era sexual taboos. A film version was released in 1975 that, by 1980, was well on its way to becoming the ultimate midnight cult classic.
A parodistic homage to hokey science-fiction and movies from the 1930s through the 1960s, many of which (King Kong, Flash Gordon, The Invisible Man, When Worlds Collide, Forbidden Planet, The Day the Earth Stood Still) are explicitly referenced in the lyrics of the opening song “Science Fiction, Double Feature” sung by the Usherette (Maggie Papa), the plot concerns two newly engaged high school students, Janet Weiss (Beth Alianiello) and Brad Majors (Jeremy Chiang), going for a drive to thank the teacher of the science class, Dr. Everett Scott (Josh Raymo), in which they first met. On the way during a drenching thunderstorm their car breaks down and they seek refuge in the castle of Dr. Frank N. Furter (John Cunha) who, attended by his household servants Riff-Raff (Papa) and Magenta (Chelsea Cook) as well as his groupie Columbia (Lily Ferreira), is an alien mad scientist transvestite trying to create a monster, Rocky Horror (Zephyr Goza), in the process making use of rocker and outlaw badboy Eddie (Kyle Renee Newport). Periodically the action is explained by a Narrator (alternately Ted Clement and Patricia Hawkridge, played by Hawkridge in the performance reviewed) who also occasionally interacts with the characters. Out Loud deploys a substantial ensemble credited as “phantoms” (Rachel Beth Beauregard, Kylie Chartier, Clark D’Agostino, Shannon Donnelly, Ray Fournier, Victor Jessop, Derek Smith) and “usherettes” (Erika Fay Greenwood, Daria-Lyric Montaquila, Katie Russell).
Out Loud is by far the most experimentally adventurous theater group in Rhode Island, and some of their serious pieces have profoundly resonated with audiences. At Escape, a wordless devised movement piece that is an extended meditation on death and grief, “Several audience members were visibly moved to tears as they exited at the end, so the effectiveness of the performance is undeniable.” Rocky Horror shows the troupe at the opposite extreme of their abilities, performing a comic romp that is great fun to watch, yet still very much preserving their distinctive flair for the innovative and unusual.
During an early scene where Brad and Janet are driving in a car during a rain storm, one of the ensemble plays the role of their windshield wipers. That’s not terribly out of ordinary, but then it becomes clear that the ensemble is playing the entire car as it moves across the stage, and one of the ensemble plays the tire that blows out to set the story in motion. That’s a brilliant directorial choice that could only have come from Kira Hawkridge, artistic director of the company and director of this show. Indeed, there is a near-absence of conventional props as they are created on a relatively bare stage in the course of performance. It’s ambitious almost on a Cirque du Soleil level, and I’ve never seen that done before for Rocky Horror.
Lighting design (Marc Tiberiis II) and sound design (Nick Schmidt) were noteworthy, especially in evoking thunderstorms and theremin-like scene transitions. Costumes, by Emma Impagliazzo and Trey Hendley with assistance from Victoria Ezikovich, were unusual and innovative, breaking with many of the conventions that have come to be associated with Rocky Horror, using many of the basic materials expected, such as fishnet stockings and leather, but giving each actor on stage a recognizably distinctive personal style rather than dressing them as generic Transylvanians.
The music is top-notch, provided by Emily Turtle on piano, Marc Tiberiis on drums, Ben Morris on bass and Nick Schmidt on guitar. All of the singing is solid, but Maggie Papa is outstanding in her solos as the Usherette (“Science Fiction, Double Feature”) and as Riff-Raff (“Over at the Frankenstein Place”). Chelsea Cook as Magenta contributes strong vocal performances, and usually Magenta and the Usherette are doubled by the same actor, but the role has no proper solo other than in “Over at the Frankenstein Place” if the Usherette is transferred away. Zephyr Goza as Rocky Horror (“Sword of Damocles”) and Kyle Renee Newport as Eddie (“Hot Patootie”) handle their solos very differently from what might seem familiar, emphasizing the physical theatricality of their roles. Jeremy Chiang as Brad has a solo (“Once in a While”) that was cut from the film and therefore may be unfamiliar to audiences. Of course, John Cunha as Dr. Frank N. Furter does more singing than anyone else and has a responsibility to carry the show. The strongest musical pieces, however, are the ensemble collaborative songs (“Time Warp,” “Eddie’s Teddy,” “Rose Tint My World”).
I’ve seen the film more than 1,000 times in cinemas and lost count of how many times I’ve seen the live stage musical, but Out Loud managed to surprise me, and I was impressed. Don’t miss Out Loud’s The Rocky Horror Show – it’s like nothing you’ve seen before, and you’re unlikely to see it like this again. It’s as astounding as it promises to be.
The Rocky Horror Show, music, lyrics and book by Richard O’Brien, directed by Kira Hawkridge, musical direction by Emily Turtle, Out Loud Theatre Ensemble, 134 Mathewson Street Flr 4 (elevator access), PVD. About 2h15m including intermission. Through Jun 29. Contains frequent references to 1970s-era sexual taboos and extremely occasional strong language, but quite tame by modern standards. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: outloudtheatre.org/the-rocky-horror-show.html Tickets: eventbrite.com/e/the-rocky-horror-show-by-richard-obrien-tickets-62455850129 Facebook: facebook.com/events/345640466119849