By John Millman-Dwyer
The ads say that this is the final season at the Playhouse for “Rocky.” I asked and was told, “Yes. It won’t be coming back next year.”
But this ever popular seasonal phenom is not dead. It will return in the future. Many of the costumes and set pieces need to be updated. There will be a reboot. Dr. Frank-N-Furter just needs time for his makeover.
I have gone to “Rocky” yearly to review, and it is a guaranteed good time. In part because of the audience and the tradition. Not liking “Rocky” is like not liking trick-or-treating. Not going to “Rocky,” for some, would be like not putting up a Christmas tree. Which gets one to think about how this show has evolved in our consciousness.
It was and remains avant-garde. But it is also trending mainstream, with its blending of genders and with transgender rights. At the heart of it all, naughtiness and sexual freedom are still a love story. In fact, pare away all the gruesomeness, and there are several love stories in the tale. And love, with all its shapes and identities, is part of what makes up a human being. Nothing is more mainstream than that.
The story starts out with a loving couple, Brad and Janet, who get stranded in the wilderness of Denton, Ohio, during a rainstorm due to a flat tire. They are soaked when they reach a nearby castle, where they are met by what appears to be a manservant. But this manservant is really an alien named “Riff Raff.” The castle’s owner, again, appears to be Dr. Frank-N-Furter. But all appearances are deceiving. Brad Majors and Janet Weiss appear to be a conservative couple who would never do anything risqué.
Dressed in fishnet stockings and glitter, the good doctor breaks all norms. And what kind of doctor is he? What motivates his two female followers in the castle, Magenta and Columbia? And then there is a biker named Eddie, whom the doctor was attracted to. Eddie showed feelings for Columbia, and the doctor got so incensed that he took half of Eddie’s brain and put it into his own creation, the stunningly hunk-a-licious Rocky. The story meanders and is crazy, but is original and so full of spontaneity. It encourages improv and a certain amount of audience participation. It is a glittery glamfest gone awry. It is rock n’ roll and David Bowie and SNL’s love child.
This intermission-less 90-minute show this year runs with a great kinetic energy that is so fun and smooth and crazy that it feels like half as long. Sounds crazy that the audience loses time, but we have been forewarned of time warps inside the signature song and dance number “The Time Warp” featured at the beginning and end of the show.
The reason for the clock stopping and time getting bent is due to director Hunter Foster’s assembling of such a great ensemble. Their talents are indisputable. They are Zach Cossman as Brad (previously seen at the Playhouse in “The Buddy Holly Story”), Daisy Wright as Janet Weiss (seen at the Playhouse in “Rocky Horror” and “42nd St.”), the commanding presence of Michael Thomas Holmes who returns to this stage as Narrator/Dr. Scott, Brandon Espinoza who gave us a sexy rocker as Eddie, Brian Flores whose vocals amaze as Riff Raff (who looks like a zombie, but still can bust a move), Harper Miles who rocks as Magenta and to whom nothing seems impossible, Nevada Riley as a soulful Columbia (previously an apprentice onstage for the Playhouse’s “42nd Street” and recent University of Michigan theater grad) and Eric Schell as the beautifully sculpted Rocky (Schell brings dance skills to the role during a short ballet sequence).
Kevin Cahoon comes back to the Playhouse as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the sweet transvestite from Transylvania. He is something special. This whole genre of this type of rock-musical is quite loose and is best served when it is centered by someone who is a performing artist. There are acting and singing skills needed to be Dr. Frank, but what knocks it out of the park and makes you leave the show thinking “Wow! That was a memorable experience” is having an actor who can live in the moment and interact. When there was a costume malfunction, Cahoon made it part of the show. He is smooth and enriches every moment. He talks to the audience as Dr. Frank and is hilarious.
Currently he is starring in the Netflix series “Glow.” His character is Bobby Barnes, a drag performer who nightly commands the cabaret room at a Vegas casino. I mention this because that ability to command a room is one that is needed in the “Rocky Horror Show” which historically is best when done in a more intimate room that supports audience interaction. The chops needed to be in the moment are there when doing a cabaret act and are needed for this role ideally. It has been done at the Playhouse and elsewhere without it, but then something is lacking. You feel like you only have been served half the meal. But with that performing sense, Cahoon and ensemble makes Dr. Frank and ensemble a full meal with all the condom-ents and all the relish and all the side dishes.
“Rocky Horror” is sexy. “Rocky Horror” is inspiring. This cast is inspiring as well on many levels. At the end of the show they challenge us with the song “Don’t dream it, Be it!” So, don’t dream about getting a ticket to this amazing show. Get one.
The show continues at Bucks County Playhouse until Oct. 27.