Babies, don’t you panic. Over at the Frankenstein place (a.k.a. the Dayton Art Institute), Zoot Theatre Company’s production of Richard O’Brien’s “The Rocky Horror (Puppet) Show” is a totally commendable experience absolutely blessed by a singular sensation in high heels and fishnets.
O’Brien’s envelope- pushing yet enduring 1973 tale of an innocent couple’s sexual awakening inside a demented castle is so full of sci-fi gobbledygook and campy silliness that it’s imperative for an ensemble to completely dive in no holds barred. The balancing act of staying rooted in character while not taking anything seriously is the key to inhabiting this thin, outlandish romp. Thankfully, director/musical director John Faas assembles an amusing, eager, passionate and vocally admirable team who spiritedly attack the material for all its worth. I question Faas immediately exaggerating tone by having the cast interact with each other and the audience during the nostalgic opener “Science Fiction Double Feature” (which oddly detracts from his inspired addition of projections and show credits displayed center stage), but he shapes a smoother, hilariously carnal course thereafter that aims to please.
In fact, the course at hand, which rightfully encourages audience participation, is brilliantly taken to another dimension the jaw-dropping moment JJ Parkey arrives as Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter, the mad scientist and sex-craved megalomaniac thrilled to have created the perfect man. Decadently costumed by Ayn Wood as a glam rock god and strutting around the stage as if it’s his own personal runway, Parkey, totally aware that Frank craves attention and respect, sends the pulsating “Sweet Transvestite” through the roof to fearsome, commanding and delectably bitchy degrees. It is a truly astonishing moment that not only seems to stop time, but remarkably recalls the uninhibited raw power of his fierce, haunting portrayal of Hedwig in Encore Theater Company’s 2011 production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Still, the most alluring aspect of his thrillingly domineering and delightfully comedic embodiment of Frank is his freedom to be as assertively over-the-top as he wants without the risk of overpowering his fellow actors. He can simply savor the role for the showy spectacle it was intended to be. By time he raises the roof again late in Act 2 with a soaring rendition of “I’m Going Home” while channeling the divas of yore with old-fashioned Hollywood glamour, you’ll find it hard to imagine anyone else leading this show.
Elsewhere, the bespectacled, multi-tasking Ray Zupp is a naturally endearing and humorously dopey Brad Majors, who shares Walter White’s fondness for tighty whities. The equally pleasant Beth Conley is a genuinely green and gullible Janet Weiss, but her “Touch-A-Touch-A Touch Me” epiphany could be more vigorously vivacious. Anyone who saw Riley Able’s breakthrough performance as handsome, shirtless, muscular drifter Hal Carter in Wright State University’s 2011 production of “Picnic” will not be surprised he’s playing the handsome, shirtless, muscular Rocky. There is more to Able than his physique (seven months ago he was a sophisticated Baron in WSU’s dazzling “Grand Hotel”), but right now he’s turning heads as a thoroughly entertaining doofus in tight gold shorts and that ain’t no crime. Matt Zanfagna (Riff-Raff), Alison Koch (Magenta) and Stephanie Jenkins (Columbia) are a fittingly creepy, mischievous and subservient trio although the committed Koch has a tendency to scream-sing, leaving most of her lyrics incomprehensible. Natalie Houliston is an unbridled joy exhibiting sharp comedic timing in the dual roles of Dr. Scott and Eddie, particularly leading a rousing “Hot Patootie” that is among the many exuberant numbers choreographed by Shawn Storms. Julia Gomez, Chelsea Hauptsteuck, Philip Stock and Ben Tracy keep the debauchery alive with seductive magnetism as the Phantoms. Eric Antz, Juliet-Howard Welch and Michael Stockstill are the silently proficient trio operating puppets (designed by Zoot artistic director D. Tristan Cupp) representing the remnants of Frank’s bizarre handiwork. Andrew Ian Adams also exhibits skilled puppetry while fluidly guiding the proceedings with engagingly ghoulish glee as the Narrator.
J. Gary Thompson’s sound design proved very problematic at the performance attended, but Wood’s sexy costumes, Zupp’s efficient sets, John Rensel’s atmospheric, Technicolor rock concert lighting, and Edward Wooten’s satisfying band are more gratifying technical components.
Bound to please die-hard fans and curious newbies, this “Rocky” will be remembered for expanding Zoot’s artistic capabilities and allowing the phenomenal Parkey to deliver one of the best performances of 2013.
“The Rocky Horror (Puppet) Show” continues through Nov. 2 in the NCR Renaissance Auditorium of the Dayton Art Institute, 456 Belmonte Park N, Dayton. Performances are Oct. 25-27 and Nov. 1-2; Friday and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. There will also be a special midnight performance Oct. 26. Act One: 40 minutes; Act Two: 55 minutes. Tickets are $12-$20. Visit www.zoottheatrecompany.org for tickets or more information. Patrons are advised the musical is recommended for ages 16 and older due to strong language and adult themes.
DMM has 3 pairs of tickets to give away to some of our lucky winners to see The Rocky Horror (Puppet) Show. If you’d like to be our guest just like this review and comment on why you should win and fill out the form below! We’ll post our winners here Thursday night!
Congrats to our winners: Harvey from Huber Heights, Debbie from Kettering and Beth from Springfield! Enjoy the show!