How does one review the revival of a camp classic? How does a reviewer deal with that oxymoronic juxtaposition of camp and classic? Can something “so bad it’s good” actually achieve the status of a classic?

Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show can’t possibly be compared with bona fide classics like Oklahoma!, West Side Story, Company, Chicago, or even Mame for that matter. The science fiction/horror movie spoof has but the barest hint of a storyline. Its cardboard characters include a transvestite villain, an all-American couple who become his sex partners, a pair of incestuous lovers, and a “creature” about as similar to Frankenstein’s monster as young Arnold Schwarzenegger was to … well, to Frankenstein’s monster. In its favor are its bunch of oh-so catchy songs, and at least one dance sequence which has become a classic in its own right. (“Time Warp,” if you haven’t already guessed.)

Regardless of the reasons, Rocky Horror has indeed become a classic. Its 1973 West End World Premiere was followed by a ’74 Los Angeles run at the Roxy, a ’75 Broadway premiere, and subsequent productions throughout the world leading to what may well be a record number of cast recordings—a grand total of twenty-eight, plus the movie soundtrack. Audience participation at live productions and midnight screenings of 1975’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show has become legendary, with Rocky fans showing up in costume, throwing food, toilet paper, and confetti on the stage at appropriate moments, and shouting out punch lines in unison.


It’s this camp classic that San Diego’s Old Globe has now brought back to life, to flashy, flamboyant, spectacular life—to the delight of Rocky Horrorheads far and near.

A flashlight-bearing pair of 1950s movie usher(ette)s (Laura Shoop and Jason Wooten) open the Horror Show with “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” whose references to ‘50s sci-fi/horror classics like The Day The Earth Stood Still, It Came From Outer Space, and Forbidden Planet (and actual black-and-white movie clips projected behind them) hint at what’s to come, though it’s unlikely that any 1950s movie ever featured a bisexual mad scientist self-described as “just a sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania.”

We’re then introduced to nerdy Brad Majors (Kelsey Kurz) and his virginal girlfriend Janet Weiss (Jeanna de Wall), on their way to visit their former science tutor, wheelchair-bound Dr. Everett Scott (David Andrew Macdonald, who also doubles as our suave, smoking-jacketed narrator). A flat tire interrupts Brad and Janet’s rain-dampened ride, and before long they find themselves at the door of an ancient castle in search of a telephone.

Welcoming them to “the Frankenstein place” are handyman Riff Raff (Wooten), his sister Magenta (Shoop), and tap-dancing groupie Columbia (Nadine Isenegger), who teach the hapless couple the abovementioned “Time Warp.” (“It’s just a jump to the left and then a step to the right. With your hands on your hips, you bring your knees in tight. But it’s the pelvic thrust that really drives you insane.”) This is only a prelude, however, to the grand entrance of the real Rocky Horror star, “Sweet Transvestite” Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter (Matt McGrath, in black bustier and bikini bottom, black garter belt and fishnets, and black high heels).

With Brad and Janet soon stripped down to their undies, it’s clear that Frank ‘N’ Furter has some nasty shenanigans in mind, but first he introduces them to his prized creation, a hunky specimen named Rocky Horror (Sydney James Harcourt), whom Frank ‘N’ Furter has brought to life in the tradition of his sort-of namesake Dr. Frankenstein.

From then on, it’s a bit hard to describe, or even for that matter to follow Rocky Horror’s bizarro “plot,” though it does involve scenes of hetero and homo sex, the introduction of two more characters—Eddie (Andrew Call) and Dr. Scott (Macdonald)—and a quartet of gender-bending “Phantoms” (Call, Lauren Lim Jackson, Anna Schnaitter, and Kit Treece), who serve as a netherworldly Greek chorus.

Despite a rather rockier than usual journey towards its opening night (both Rocky Horror’s original director and its Frank ‘N’ Furter exited mid-rehearsals amidst media hoopla), you’d hardly know it from the highly polished finished product onstage at the Old Globe. San Diego’s very own James Vasquez (one of the few SoCal talents associated with this East Coast-cast-and-designed production) directs with pizzazz and panache, JT Horenstein choreographs with dazzle and originality, and the OC’s Mike Wilkins music directs with rock concert-ready punch. Scenic designer Donyale Werle’s set blends creepiness and glitz, Emily Rebholz’s costumes are deliciously macabre, Rui Rita lights up the stage with Vegas flash as seen through horror movie gels, and Aaron Rhyne scores points for his clever projection designs.

In a charismatic marvel of a performance that perhaps only Cher could equal, McGrath makes for a seductive, spell-binding, scene-stealing Frank ‘N’ Furter. Kurz and de Wall are so button-cute in their initial Brad-and-Janet scenes that their power vocals and undies-clad sex appeal prove delightful surprises. Wooten and Shoop chew scenery and steal scenes right and left, the best possible compliment one could give a Riff Raff and Magenta. Isseneger is a terrific Colombia, and one heck of a tap dancer to boot. Harcourt is physical perfection—and a deft comedic actor—as Rocky. Macdonald has great fun with two very different roles, and nails them both. Phantoms Call, Jackson, Schnaitter, and Treece couldn’t be more triple-threatastic, and unless you read your program, you’ll have no idea that Call’s James Deanesque Eddie doubles as the Phantom with the heavy metal hair.

Anjee Nero is stage manager and Jess Slocum assistant stage manager.

A decade now having passed since Broadway’s last Rocky Horror Show revival, the Old Globe production would seem poised to bring the cult hit back to the Great White Way, to the certain delight of Rocky Horrorheads, ready and eager like last night’s to shout out pre-programmed interjections which have become classics in their own right.  My personal favorite:
Narrator: It’s true there were dark storm clouds…,
Audience member: Describe your balls!
Narrator: (continuing) … heavy, black, and pendulous, towards which they were driving.

In the final analysis, it matters not a whit whether Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show is a true musical theater classic. Quite simply put, it is in a class by itself.

Old Globe Theatre, Balboa Park, San Diego.

–Steven Stanley
September 29, 2011

Photos: Henry DiRocco

Comments are closed.