Review: ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ at Bucks County Playhouse

When you take your seat at Bucks County Playhouse and find a paper bag on your seat filled with props – including a baggie full of rice to throw at the stage during a wedding scene – you may realize that you’re not attending an ordinary musical.

That’s because there’s nothing ordinary about The Rocky Horror Show. Richard O’Brien’s raunchy spoof of classic science fiction and horror movies (and traditional gender roles) was too bizarre and distasteful for mass audiences when it was first staged in 1973. But time caught up with it, thanks in large part to midnight showings of the 1975 movie version (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) that turned it into a cult classic.

The cast of The Rocky Horror Show at Bucks County Playhouse. Photo courtesy of Bucks County Playhouse.

The cast of’ ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ at Bucks County Playhouse. Photo courtesy of Bucks County Playhouse.

The audience at the Bucks County Playhouse’s production reveled in all of the show’s most iconic moments, yelling insults at the characters on cue like veteran midnight merrymakers. It’s possible, though, some of them knew the show from the Playhouse’s productions in 2013 and 2014. This new edition, which features many of the same cast members as previous years, adds a few new wrinkles to keep things fresh.

Even for a parody, Rocky Horror has a thin plot. It’s about Brad and Janet, an innocent young couple that gets sucked into the world of Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter, a transvestite mad scientist creating his own version of a Frankenstein monster. The monster turns out to be Rocky, a muscle-bound stud designed to provide pleasure to everyone he sees. By the time the show is over, Brad and Janet aren’t so innocent anymore.

O’Brien’s script and score make the allusions to classic movies explicit: The opening number, “Science Fiction Double Feature,” mentions Forbidden Planet and The Day the Earth Stood Still. Some of the cultural references are dated now; introducing “Charles Atlas Song,” Kevin Cahoon, playing Frank, turned to the audience and snapped “Google him!” But the score is bouncy and undemanding, and for the most part it’s held up well.

Rocky Horror is big, brash, and basic. In the wrong hands, it can seem so dumb that you wonder why it’s lasted so long… but it in the right hands, it’s a lot of campy fun. Fortunately, director Hunter Foster’s production is high-spirited and fast-moving; if you’re troubled by a plot development that doesn’t make much sense, just wait a few seconds and a new joke or production number will show up. The song “Over at the Frankenstein Place” is positively crammed with gags about other horror movies – plus a few gags about that other horror show, the current presidential campaign.

Bucks County’s production isn’t strictly faithful to the movie, but its best moments have an audacity that feels true to the Rocky Horror spirit. My favorite moment came when Katie Anderson, playing Frank’s flunky Columbia, gave a shout-out to Annaleigh Ashford, who played the same role in the sanitized Fox TV adaptation of Rocky Horror that aired just a few days ago.

The cast of The Rocky Horror Show at Bucks County Playhouse. Photo courtesy of Bucks County Playhouse.

The cast of ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ at Bucks County Playhouse. Photo courtesy of Bucks County Playhouse.

Rocky Horror can get too chaotic, but Foster’s version comes off as controlled chaos. William Youmans, playing the Narrator (plus several other roles), addresses the audience directly, keeping them in check when their reaction gets too raucous. Cahoon is gleefully snide as Frank, interacting well with the audience. Maximilian Sangerman gives an uptight dignity to Brad, Stephanie Gibson is dynamic and stimulating as Janet, and Nick Adams’ brawny Rocky is the perfect foil to both of them. Adams and Gibson’s wild version of “Touch-A-Touch-A-Touch Me” (with an assist from Ryah Nixon as Frank’s assistant Magenta) gives the show just the right boost of energy.

The set design by David L. Arsenault and Wilson Chin is dominated by a large platform and two flights of stairs that provide lots of performance space; a tight four-piece onstage band, led by Will Shuler, sits right below the platform. Nicole V. Moody’s costumes replicate the movie’s bawdy esthetic, and Travis McHale’s lighting during “Rose Tint My World” gives the song the right sense of danger. And Lorin Latarro’s rowdy choreography from the previous productions is replicated well here.

If you’re a fan of any previous version of The Rocky Horror Show, you’ll love what Bucks County Playhouse has done with this entertaining production. They’ve made an enjoyable production by embracing the show’s kooky spirit. And during the finale, when audience members are pulled onstage to dance to “The Time Warp,” they embrace the spirit of audience participation that makes this show like no other.

Running Time: One hour 40 minutes, with no intermission.

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The Rocky Horror Show plays through October 30, 2016, at the Bucks County Playhouse – 70 South Main Street, in New Hope, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 862-2121, or purchase them online.

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