Get ready to do the Time Warp, again!
Iron Crow Theatre is continuing their annual production of the cult classic to rule all cult classics: “The Rocky Horror Show.” This time it’s all bedecked and ready for Pride! The Iron Crow Theatre’s production is perfectly bawdy, brash, and deliciously accessible for virgins (i.e. first time “Rocky Horror” viewers) and old fans alike. Under the direction of Sean Elias, it is strongly acted, beautifully choreographed, and balances favorite traditions with new and timely takes.
Under the direction of Sean Elias, it is strongly acted, beautifully choreographed, and balances favorite traditions with new and timely takes.
Audience participation is a must in any proper performance of “Rocky Horror.” Long before the show begins, attendees are met by a cunning Riff Raff (Christian Gonzalez), his frightening sister, Magenta (Hana Clarice), and their impish band of Phantoms (Brooke Donald, Kaitlin Harbin, Alana Knobel, and Kristen Stickley) who play host as the audience enters the theater. They’ll guide audiences on how to use their props (yes, there are prop bags, no need to bring your own newspaper) and through a series of bawdy games for those who wish to participate. The word wish is key—while this is certainly a show for adults, the actors are explicit about consent and audience comfort. On that note, we should recognize Helen Aberger’s and Shawna Potter’s excellent work with intimacy direction on this production.
A quick recap for those who may not know: “The Rocky Horror Show” is essentially queer Frankenstein. Two buttoned-up squares, Brad (Jake Stibbe), and his fiance, Janet, are in the middle of nowhere and find their car broken down outside of a castle whose inhabitants are a species of alien from the planet of Transsexual Transylvania. On this night, their leader, Frank ‘N’ Furter, is bringing his creature to life— “a blonde man with a tan.” The sexually rapacious Frank just can’t leave Brad and Janet alone and before long the night ends up in a genderqueer, crossdressing, romp of “who is seducing who?” If you’ve never seen it, you probably at least know how to do the Time Warp.
Overall, the performance is strong vocally but that’s not where this production shines. There are some notable vocal performances from Allison Fitzgerald (Janet), Micaela Oliverio (Columbia), Alana Knoebel (Eddie/ Dr. Scott), Nicholas Miles (Frank N’ Furter), and Brian Dauglas (Rocky). In fairness, vocals were dimmed by uneven and tricky audio, an issue I have noticed with other productions in this space that is due to poor acoustics or equipment. At times, it is nearly impossible to hear the performers over the band (always hard to balance during a rock musical).
This cast is solid in comedic timing and fully embodies unique characters despite the fact that many of us are married to the versions from the 1975 motion picture starring Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, and Richard O’ Brien. Iron Crow fully embraced the celebration of Pride in this production— Brad is recognized as a truly bisexual man. The fact that he and Janet still end up together is not an accident but a choice made after a night of remarkable self-discovery (and bless Jake Stibbe but his Brad is still such an a*s). Brian Dauglash’s Rocky exudes such a kindness, tenderness, and almost wholesome, sexual delight for others that we can only wonder if that is what we could all be like if we were merely ‘created’ and not shaped by the conflicting gender norms of this world. Timoth David Copney leads us as a wry, self-aware Narrator with hints of RuPaul. I was expected to be pulled onstage to lip-synch for my life at any moment (they saved that for intermission).
Nicholas Miles, who has been an important actor this season at Iron Crow, gives us a bold and hilarious Frank ‘N’ Furter. He’s seductive but I did wish he would have been a bit more vulnerable and scarier. After all, Frank is not such a nice guy and he’s the closest thing we have to a villain. I want to feel his pain by the time we get to “I’m Going Home” and learn that Frank, too, has felt severed from himself by the gendered expectations of society. That being said, Miles did have me laughing so hard I nearly cried.
We cannot forget the band comprised of Jay DeVaughn on the keyboard, Peter Weitzmann on guitar, Jessie Estabrook on bass, and Lisa Baker on drums. They were great and it wouldn’t be “Rocky Horror” if the best call lines weren’t coming from the band. I think I heard a few especially good ones from Baker but it’s hard to be sure.
Strong performances were matched by beautiful costumes by Ava Burckhardt that were colorful, sexy and fun (keep your eyes peeled for the nod to Marsha P. Henderson’s headdress). There’s been a trend in the last decade to make this show so dark and Goth. While that has its place and can be fun, I was SO glad not to see that again here. I could not adore the set design by Thomas Jenkeleit more. It was a bi-level, scaffolded set hung with glittery, rainbow ribbons. The focal point connecting to the two levels was a big, green playground slide. It felt like a quinceañera meets Pee Wee’s Playhouse and it was fabulous. Although I do think they could have used the slide a bit more since they had it. This was certainly a dance-heavy production of “Rocky Horror” and kudos should go to choreographer Unissa Cruse.
I have done versions of this show, both as a performer and director, many times. I have seen it on stage and on film dozens, if not hundreds, of times more. Every time, I wonder how this show never gets old. Ten years ago, I would say it’s because of the great music, all of the camp, and Tim Curry’s aggressive sexual powers.
I’m not so sure anymore. Unfortunately, with LGBTQ+ rights being viciously attacked, especially trans rights, “The Rocky Horror Show” feels important again. In the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but think of how this show could be made illegal soon in states like Tennessee or Texas and others that have or are trying to pass drag bans. Where would Frank use the bathroom in the state of Florida? While this production is a celebration of queerness, there are subtle ways that it invites you to ask those very questions throughout.
Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes including one 15-minute intermission.
Advisory: Appropriate for older teens and adults. Simulated sex and violence.
“The Rocky Horror Show” runs through June 17, 2023 at The Baltimore Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St, Baltimore MD, 21201. For more information and to purchase tickets, call the Box Office at (443) 637-2769 or go online. Masks are not required.