Trick and treat, I say. Rocky Horror with its glam get-ups and gender-bending is made for this costumed holiday. Brad (asshole) and Janet (slut) stumble into the home of “sweet transvestite” (more like pansexual) Dr. Frank N. Furter and his evilish plot to create Rocky, a golden “boy” as his perfect partner. The cult classic movie is a fun-sized treat in cinemas around this time of year, though the Mainline drops the full Snickers bar in the bag with its third annual performance of the original 1975 musical stage production.
Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show is not the easiest show to pull off. It’s a full-scale musicale with a large cast. It requires nerves/balls/wombs of steel to keep audience heckling in its place (especially since people don’t really know all the traditional call outs and now call out whenever seems fitting). Contemporary sensibilities don’t always mesh well with ’70s humour. There’s lots of slut shaming. Frank N. Furter is a negative image of a bisexual transvestite: campy, oversexed, maniacal. Brad and Janet are both raped, or at least what we’d call rape (and what at least one audience member called out). Fortunately, this production, directed by Philiippe Gobeille, never takes itself too seriously nor does it shy away from or tone down its lack of political correctness. Instead, the production is wicked and saucy. Sure, the costumes are a little less ’70s and more ’80s than the cult film, but the characters still wear enough fishnets to catch a beluga. Also Rocky may not be quite what experienced attendees expect, but a few revisions to the script and its maybe even better than intended.
The actors go to the show with so much gusto and enthusiasm, that its hard not to love them all. Even the six phantoms have spunky personalities. Contrary to his claims in our preview interview, narrator Dan Derkson, working a possibly Italian accent, arrives pantsless on stage to set the scene with a wheel of fate. Stevie Pemberton and Phipippe Gobeille give easily corrupted virgins Janet and Brad respectively the right amount of wide-eyed hick innocence, misdirected horniness, and nerdiness. Antonio Bavaro shines as glamorously as the sun in his reprise of Dr. Frank N. Furter. Supposedly this is his last year in the role, so see him before you miss out for life. Perhaps my favorite was Lily MacLean as pint-sized Columbia, who must be kept from weeping over the loss of her lover Eddie with a euphoria inducing spritz. MacLean was part of the Title 66 production of History of the Devil, so keep an eye out on this one.
The choreography is outstanding. The talented Amy Blackmore had her hand in it along with Holly Greco, Maxine Segalowitz and Shauna Feldman, so no surprise on this front. The show flows through some complicated numbers, including a tap dance. The influence of Montreal’s burlesque scene is evident; the sensual, burlesque-style moves, rolling hips, splayed legs, and serpentine torsos tease and tickle rather than offend. Things are worked for humour. The phantoms along with the rest of the cast keep the energy high.
A few problems with microphones made the entire production a little rough around the edge. When Magenta (Alexandra Ghezzi) and Riff Raff (Kenny Stein) sing together, it took a moment to bring them in simultaneously. The band is loud (good, but loud), so voices are lost, especially when singers are on the far side of the stage. Generally, all singers had strong voices and belted out their numbers Broadway style. When all microphones worked, the singers harmonized nicely. That said, Rocky Horror can be a little rough around the edges. The point is not to be clean, but to get dirty.
The highlight for many of Rocky Horror is the ability to yell out phrases during the production. Throwing of rice, toast, water, etc. is explicitly verboten, but very few audience members seemed to know the familiar call outs. That said, just as Montreal is a city of burlesque, it’s also a city of improv. The audience was pretty quiet the first half, but by the second half, the right to yell out responses was cheerfully abused. The characters responded with exactly the right level of reactivity to the heckling.
Overall, this is an accessible and likable show, with a level of professionalism that is attuned enough to be silly without being amateurish. It’s not noses-up, butts-clenched theatre, but the perfect start to Halloween 2014.
Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show plays at Mainline Theatre (3997 St. Laurent) from October 22 to October 25 at 8 p.m., and October 24 and 25 at 11 p.m. $15/18/20.