jeni walls and david light
On April Fool’s Day in 1976, Richard O’Brien’s film The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) began its ascent to cult classic status when it received its first midnight screening at the Waverly Theatre in New York. Since then it has become an honoured tradition for audience members to dress up in wild attire and to partake in a ritualized audience participation dialogue with the film, which includes yelling out and throwing things. This convention, especially for midnight performances, was quickly adopted in the stage version of the show as well, and this was just the sort of romp that audiences of six sold out shows of The Rocky Horror Show were treated to over Halloween weekend at the Lower Ossington Theatre.
Produced by Jeni Walls and Michael Galloro in association with Purple Circus, The Rocky Horror Show brought together professional actors with young, aspiring performers in association with Toronto Youth Theatre and the Lower Ossington Theatre, as a benefit and it was exhilarating and inspiring to see so much fresh young talent strutting their stuff over at the Frankenstein Place.
Richard O’Brien’s musical is a feast for lovers of camp and pastiche of vintage horror films and B movies centering on a naive, innocent couple, Brad and Janet, who find themselves stranded at the castle of Dr. Frank N’ Furter, a transvestite and inventor celebrating his newest creation, Rocky, a hunky muscle man reminiscent of Michelangelo’s David in golden underwear. Throughout the evening the audience watches as temptation and lust lures Janet and Brad toward sexual perversions beyond even their wildest fantasies.
This production at the Lower Ossington Theatre was very strong, especially vocally, and boasted of delightfully creative staging by Brian Gregory. I really enjoyed his use of background performers to create set pieces, such as Brad and Janet’s car and the door to Frank’s castle, as well as the use of television screens to capture not only the genre’s obsession with the future, but also rooting it very much in the time that it was written. The choreography by Jeni Walls, Brian Waters and Holly LaFlame was joyful, sexy and very well executed by the entire cast.
There were some outstanding performances in this production which deserve to be mentioned, as well as some that I think show enormous potential, but that could benefit from delving deeper into the text, especially in the scenes without music, and to not be afraid to push these idiosyncratic characters with even more boldness and bravado. Amanda Milligan and Cory Strong played Janet and Brad respectively, and both have lovely voices and were pushing against saying their lines against a torrent of yells of “slut!” and “asshole!” (among other things) from the audience for the entire night, however; I think both Milligan and Strong could have given their characters a bit more depth in their relationship and their personalities; I especially would have like to have seen Strong’s Brad being a bit more rough and chauvinistic with Janet. He really shone brightly in his song “Once and Awhile,” however; while Milligan’s Janet seemed most natural in her scenes with Rocky. Brian Gregory also has a fantastic voice as Riff Raff, although I thought he could have pushed the strangeness and the subservience of his character even farther.
Brian Sutherland showed great fortitude as the Criminologist Narrator, who gets insults hurled at him all night, and a perfect mixture of pompousness and droning tediousness. Jeni Walls made a captivating and vocal powerhouse Magenta, although, like Gregory’s Riff Raff, I felt that there was room for the oddities of her domestic to shine through a bit more. Graham Parkhurst gave a fantastic performance as Rocky, with a beautiful sheepishness of his own body, as well as capturing very well the blankness of someone who has emerged fully formed but without any knowledge of the world. His singing voice is also particularly dreamy. David Light gave a performance of Dr. Frank N’ Furter that I think would win over even the most steadfast Tim Curry purists. From his crisp movements and deliberate articulation of each word he said, to the massive sex appeal that he exudes from his pores, Light seduces the audience immediately into his twisted world and then breaks its heart with his beautiful rendition of “I’m Going Home.”
Light is undoubtedly the star of this show, but he allows Hilary Wilson to steal it intermittently in her uproariously hysterical performance as both Eddie and Dr. Scott. Trust me when I tell you that she is all the man that Meatloaf was as the wild delivery boy and makes an equally convincing venerable German scientist. The most incredible moment of the production takes place during the “What a guy/makes you cry/ and I did” exchange during the song “Eddie,” during which Jordie Currie (as Columbia), Light and Wilson riff their lines with soul and exorbitant belting prowess, just for the Hell of it, and it works.
In all, The Rocky Horror Show at the Lower Ossington Theatre was a joyful and fun evening of theatre and as always it is so inspiring to see the young members of our theatre community creating their own opportunities, showing off their mastery of musical theatre, fighting for the investment of small performing arts venues downtown in this city and not just dreaming it, being it and doing it.