Richard O’Brien’s garish and goofy cult classic The Rocky Horror Show is both a Bible and a coloring book. Any troupe playful enough to take it up must honor the show’s signature look, feel, and frisky traditions even as it seeks a genuine pop and irreverance all its own.
Since the show’s first London production in 1973, and particularly since the strange and delightful movie adaptation (“The Rocky Horror Picture Show”) in 1975, subsequent productions come off a bit like the children of famous parents. They’ve got to shine their own light at midnight, but they must never forget where they came from.
The Washington Savoyards’ production playing now at the Atlas Performing Arts Center shows a spirit and wit all its own, much to the credit of director Jay D. Brock and a broad host of collaborating artists. It pays tribute in all of the relevant ways to the campy, vampy versions that came before.
And if the production feels at times like the Savoyards are breaking in a stiff pair of new shoes — a guilty pleasure that will take a brief period to get comfortable in — it’s probably because this seasoned troupe has been primarily a Gilbert and Sullivan house for forty seasons. In theatre-years, that’s not a midlife crisis — it’s a re-birth, and a notable re-invention.
Yes, the Savoyards have been drawing water from the fountain of youth, although someone has clearly spiked their drinks. Inhibitions are lowered — to good effect — among the trim cast of 12, who all jive well with the four-person band led by Jason Solounias on keyboard. With some imaginative staging and choreography by Christen Svingos, plus a spooky new guest narrator for each performance (on Sunday night, theatreWashington chairman Victor Shargai nailed it), this colorful bunch has a lot to be proud of.
For those of you who have real jobs and go to bed after dinner: the story centers on Brad Majors (Chad W. Fornwalt) and Janet Weis (Ali Hoxie), a newly-engaged, straight-laced, dewy-eyed couple on their way to visit Dr. Everett Scott, a friend and former science tutor. They get a flat tire on the way and must venture off the road to find help. The dark mansion in which they end up (“It seems to be some sort of hunting lodge for rich weirdos,” Brad observes) is full of libidinous creatures of the night, led by the voracious transvestite and mad scientist Dr. Frank N Further (Ryan Patrick Welsh). The preppy visitors are in for a dizzyingly strange night of experimentation.
Alternative lifestyle is putting it mildly — this is Halloween punk rock cabaret vaudeville science fiction B-movie horror in heels, and onstage it’s gotta be all or nothing. Here, the design certainly impresses — actors and musicians alike occupy a huge three-level set designed by Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden, and the bright rainbow of costumes by Cheryl Patton Wu make for quick changes and eye-popping stage pictures.
The actors can dance, too, taking up choreo from Svingos with aplomb without losing much vocal power. Many strong performances and a few particularly impressive voices (Fornwalt and Hoxie, well-tuned in character and voice, power a huge portion of the songs) keep the evening electric.
The Rocky Horror Show
Closes November 4, 2012
Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H Street NE
Washington, DC 20002
1 hour, 30 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $36 – $40
Wednesdays thru Sundays
As Dr. Frank N Furter, Welsh is a memorable sight — tall, lean, and committed. He’s an apt leader for the dance numbers, and although some sporadic missed moments in the live sound mixing on Sunday night failed to carry Welsh’s voice to the back row, it’s clear he’s got pipes as well. Although every performer does solid work, Tim Rogan is also worth nothing as the monster Adonis called Rocky Horror, and Chip Hewitt does strong double-duty as bad boy idiot Eddie and the tardy-to-the-party Dr. Scott.
Different moments will land on different nights (on Sunday night the songs “Dammit, Janet,” “Touch-a Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me,” and “I’m Going Home” were the highlights) but the songs are strong throughout. It’s the intermediate scenes that still need some fleshing out. Our focus and attention dissipates a bit in the moments (or sometimes minutes) after songs end, and across such a large stage we’re not always sure where to look. To ensure those more speak-y scenes don’t just slide by, perhaps some specific moment-to-moment work would help us pivot more clearly into horror, then camp, then comedy again.
Even so, the shoes fit, and the show is both confident and curious in all the right ways. I have no doubt they’ll get there. Brad and Janet never quite make it on their journey, but the Savoyards certainly have. May there be many more midnights ahead.
The Rocky Horror Show. Book, Music, and Lyrics by Richard O’ Brien. Directed by Jay D. Brock. Choreographer: Christen Svingos. Featuring Ryan Patrick Welsh, Chad W. Fornwalt, Ali Hoxie, John Loughney, Tim Rogan, Autumn Seavey, Kelly Craige, Chip Hewitt, Kayleigh Brennan, Aaren Keith, Danny Tippett, and Caroline Wolfson. Scenic Designor: Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden. Costume Designer: Cheryl Patton Wu. Lighting Designer: Klyph Stanford. Sound Designer: Neil McFadden.
Produced by Washington Savoyards. Reviewed by Hunter Styles