The cult-classic musical The Rocky Horror Show is currently playing at Park Square Theatre in St. Paul and people are loving it. This fun and campy musical, first opening on Broadway in 1975, is most well-known for its movie adaptation, which came out the same year. This movie has sparked cosplay, shadow casts, and conversations. Park Square, wanting to take on the later, shows us what the show means in a time where we are more respectful to the trans community and the #metoo movement.
I’m sure most people are familiar with this movie’s widely popular shadow cast productions all over the country, where people act out the movie as it plays behind them--there’s even one in Minneapolis every month. During them, the audience participates by throwing objects on stage (like toilet paper or rice) and getting up to dance to the "Time Warp." Walking into the theatre, I was unsure if this production was going to be a shadow cast, an interactive production, or a traditional show. After seeing it, it doesn’t seem like the theatre knew, either. You can purchase a small bag of essentials you’d bring to a shadow cast at the theatre, minus a few items, and are encouraged to use them, but not too-wildly. The times where audience members are encouraged to get up and dance at these shadow casts, the audience were discouraged to (when I saw the show, some audience members got in trouble for this reason). This all caused me to be unsure about how I could participate and so I erred on the side of caution and kept to myself most of the time.
Regardless, I had loads of fun because of the performances of this stellar cast. The whole cast, most making their Park Square debuts, attacked their roles with so much energy it was hard for me not to soak some of it up like a sponge.
A role that really surprised me was the narrator, played by Ricky Morrisseau. Normally, the narrator goes in and out of the story--we aren’t normally supposed to mind the narrator much. That wasn’t the case with Morrisseau. He was a beacon of high energy. For a role that stays onstage most of the time, I found myself glancing over at him when I wasn’t necessarily supposed to just to see how he’d react. What made his character such a joy to watch is that there was an arc to it: he starts as a tired businessman who, as the musical progresses, finds the confidence to express his gender identity. This was an inspired piece of acting and great direction from Ilana Ransom Toeplitz.
Toeplitz’s direction transformed this piece of much-loved, yet problematic musical theatre. I was really worried about this show, especially in light of transphobic comments made by Richard O’Brien, the show’s creator (here's an article about it). I was expecting the show to be canceled, but very sure glad it wasn’t. This is a great example of how subjective art is and how anything can be transformed if given enough love and time. This fun show not only tread lightly on subjects, but brought them to the forefront to be talked about.
One thing they changed in The Rocky Horror Show is the casting of Gracie Anderson in the role of Frank. As Anderson, an undeniable star, belted the song “Sweet Transvestite” it brought a new meaning to the song. We saw a powerful woman, not a man dressed in drag (like how the role is traditionally played). Anderson really exudes power in this performance. She tackled this complex, sexy, clever role and made it her own. She is the one, hands down, that made me have to listen to a cast recording of the musical afterwards because everything was stuck in my head--I had Gracie Anderson’s version in my head. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Of course, I have to mention the characters we follow throughout the show: Brad and Janet, played by Ben Lohrberg and Natalie Shaw respectively. These funny characters are often played as weaker ingenues that, after a while, get boring to watch. Not in the case of Lohrberg and Shaw, though. They brought a wit and strength to these roles that were thoroughly entertaining the entire show. I was especially impressed with Shaw because Janet is often such a flimsy role. Shaw exceeded all expectations and made a strong woman out of her character.
The Rocky Horror Show at Park Square not only packs a punch, but also gives room for conversation. I had fun and my preconceived notions about what this show can accomplish were challenged. I recommend you see this show before it closes November 2nd. You can purchase tickets here.