I should say right off the bat that when it comes to portrayals of The Rocky Horror Show, I have extremely high standards. I’ve been a devotee of Montreal’s Rocky Horror tradition since I was first allowed into screenings of the film adaptation, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, at sixteen.
I attended the Halloween Ball at the Imperial, the Medley, and The Rialto until disability and a few bad experiences since they permitted the sale of alcohol at the ball. I switched to the annual musical show at the MainLine Theatre.
I know every single callback, am quick to come up with original heckles, and even had the soundtrack to the original London stage musical on CD until time destroyed it.
That said, in the spirit of fairness, this review of Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show will be split into two parts: the first will be for people who have never experienced it and want to know what to expect, the second will be for the massive cult of Rocky Horror fans with specific expectations.
For Rocky Virgins
If you love camp, don’t hate musicals, and are a fan of fluid portrayals of gender and sexuality, Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show is for you. Dr. Frank n’ Furter, played Stephanie McKenna, is your sassy highly sexed mad scientist, who has been in the role for years and plays the part well. Aly Slominsky as Janet is the textbook prissy virgin all but begging to be initiated sexually by a skilled partner, and Cat Preston nails the sultry maid, Magenta. Craig Dalley as Eddie is every bit as sexy as a leather vest and jeans wearing biker can be, though when he plays Dr Scott, his German accent falters on occasion.
Do not expect anything remarkable or understandable about the plot, that’s the nature of the play: more style than substance, so allow yourself to shut your brain off and enjoy it. If you can’t, this might not be the show for you.
If you appreciate good music, then stick around, the band and musical direction, by Émilie Versailles and Katharine Paradis do an amazing job bringing Richard O’Brien’s timeless catchy tunes to life. If you love to heckle, you’ll love this show, as heckling is encouraged, but do not throw anything on stage or you will be ejected.
Though the actors’ mics were glitchy, and drunken rowdy audience members – most likely planning to go to the postponed Halloween Ball – often attempted to derail the performance, the cast took it all with grace.
If you want diversity in your shows, you will be happy to know that the cast includes people of all different sizes and genders, but those preferring visible diversity will be gravely disappointed, with this reviewer noting only one actress of colour among the entire cast, and they were not in a major role. Whether this will change in future runs remains to be seen.
If you’re a little curious and looking for the fun and escapism director Amy Blackmore promised, check out Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show at MainLine. It’s adult Halloween entertainment at its finest.
For Rocky Horror Devotees
This year’s show is a remount of MainLine’s Theatre’s last run in 2019 before COVID-19 health restrictions and that needs to be taken into account when watching it. They didn’t bother holding auditions this year, asking much of the previous cast to come back and sadly production quality suffered for it.
Zachary Sykes played Brad far too manly, giving us not the dorky sexually confused Brad we all expect, but your stereotypical cis man. His singing was fine, but his portrayal desperately needed hamming up.
Stephanie McKenna’s Frank n’ Furter was excellent as always, but I was hoping she would sex it up a little more than she has in the past, though the physicality she brings to the part is always breathtaking.
Megan Vera Starling’s Riff Raff is fine but the moment the actress breaks into song, she also breaks character, turning from the creepy Igor-inspired butler to sultry diva and it is completely inappropriate for the role.
Columbia, played by Genevieve Pertugia, tap danced well and had all the cuteness her part required, but she seemed to lose her voice on several occasions and might have been better rapping her lyrics instead of singing them.
This year’s Rocky, played by Vin Barbisan is, as Amy Blackmore promised, a completely different take on the character in terms of gender, which is good. However, Rocky is the one character in the show that has clear physical requirements, and Barbisan was clearly struggling through the three pushups they did on stage. Future casting choices should be able to do press-ups well and with confidence or be encouraged to train until they can.
Sarah Kulaga-Yoscovitz was excellent as the Usherette, as was Aly Slominsky’s Janet, Cat Preston’s Magenta, Kenny Streule’s narrator, and Craig Dalley’s Eddie, though his Dr. Scott could use a bit more silliness.
The real stars of the show for me were the band, the choreographer, the floor show dancers, and whoever was responsible for making Riff Raff’s weapon at the end. As an occasional prop designer, I marveled at the beauty of it, a far cry from the recycled plastic pitchfork Richard O’Brien’s Riff Raff wields in the movie.
This year’s The Rocky Horror Show at MainLine wasn’t a bad show, but die-hard fans will find it lacking. It satisfied my need for a Rocky Horror fix, but just barely.
The show is starved for new blood, better casting, and more ethnic diversity. Here’s hoping next year’s is better.