by Lynn on October 5, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

l-r: Katie Miller, William Mackenzie
photo: Scott Gorman


At Hart House Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Book, music and lyrics by Richard O’Brien

Directed by Jennifer Walls

Music director, Giustin MacLean

Choreography by Stephan Dickson

Set by Brandon Kleiman

Costumes by Kathleen Black

Lighting by André du Toit

Sound by Jeremy Hutton

With one exception this is a wild rendering of this cultish of all cult musicals, thanks to director Jennifer Walls.

The Story. Newly engaged, straight-laced couple Brad and Janet are in a car on a dark and stormy night when their car breaks down. They wonder that perhaps the people in that castle over there deep in the forbidding woods have a phone they can use to call for help. CAA? It’s the castle of Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter, a scientist and transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania. Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter has just created the perfect plaything for himself. He’s named him Rocky and his creation is rippling with muscles. The other inhabitants of the castle are a group of misfits. Riff Raff is a sort of butler. His sister Magenta is a woman of many talents. Unsuspecting Brad and Janet are lured into the castle and are transformed by the experience.

The Production.  Brandon Kleiman’s set is beautifully cheesy, garish, glittery and cheeky. There are various levels to the stage. A shimmering silver curtain is up at the back. Kathleen Black’s costumes of leather, feathers and glitter make one give a double take.

Director Jennifer Walls has some of her characters playing usherettes strut into the audience to chat up the folks. They wear revealing garb, knee-high boots, lots of make-up and wonderful attitude. And they are rather sweet in their conversations.

Walls has directed a production that is terrific with one exception. The production is over-the-top inventive, creative and totally irreverent. Sex toys are used as the controls of the machine that created Rocky as well as for other means of manipulation, and that’s just one example. The production sparkles and goes like the wind with each scene more and more hilarious than the next. Kudos also to Stephan Dickson for his breathless choreography.

Katie Miller is a mousy, serious Janet. William Mackenzie is straight-laced as Brad. Heidi Michelle Thomas is irreverent and a raucous joy as The Narrator. She never met a heckle she couldn’t beat for smarminess. Ian Backstrom is creepy and endearing as Riff Raff with a great voice. Chiano Panth is a diminutive perfect ripple of muscle and good natured as Rocky.

But my one concern is Chris Tsujiuchi as Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter. I found him underwhelming in a part that should be pulsing with attitude, allure, sensuality and strut. Tsujiuchi just seems bored and awkward. And he tends to mumble his lines.

For me, the real star of this production is director Jennifer Walls. Terrific.

Comment.  The Rocky Horror Show (1973) is Richard O’Brien’s homage to science fiction and horror B movies with a tip of the hat to sexual fluidity and transvestitism. It’s a celebration of the ‘other’, those who don’t fit in to the norm. But it’s also chilling in that last regard because (no spoiler alert) Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter is disposed of because even his behaviour as ‘the other’ was not conforming to the norm of even these misfits. Rather than be allowed to go home to outer space, his outer-space colleagues zapped him into oblivion. In its own way The Rocky Horror Show has a serious message that is so timeless. I love that about this show.

I think its great appeal over the years is that it’s irreverent and a celebration of the freak and the ‘other.’ It’s for and about people who don’t fit in. Since it began audiences have gotten into the free-wheeling atmosphere of it. It allows audiences to be ‘other’ without shame. People dress up garishly—they did the night I saw it.  And no matter when I’ve seen this show over the decades the young audiences know all the lyrics and sing along. They know the drill when it comes to talking back and heckling when needed. The mention of the name “Brad” gets the response of “Asshole”. The mention of the name “Janet” gets “Slut” in reply. I love that too. Most of my audience wasn’t even born when this show was first done yet there they are getting into the groove of it.

A Note of Concern.  Apparently things are in the works to centralize the various services of Hart House. This includes the box office of Hart House Theatre both of which are in the basement of Hart House.  Apparently there is a decision to move the box office duties to the Hub, upstairs on the main floor of Hart House, away from the theatre itself. I can only say: DON’T DO IT!

Every theatre I’ve ever been to anywhere has a box office attached to the theatre directly and not anywhere else. As I witnessed, to move the box office duties is confusing to customers who appear at the box office wanting to pick up or have their tickets printed and to be told by the young man there that “you have to go upstairs to get them.” When the young man tries to explain, the customer rightfully persists and the young man prints the tickets there.

Why should anybody have to go anywhere but the box office for tickets? To move it is confusing for the customer—you know them—the reason you are in business! To move it from the theatre is inefficient and it makes the whole outfit of Hart House look like a bunch of amateurs. The box office is not a service that needs to be centralized. It needs to be left inside the theatre as it has been for the last 100 years. Hands off! Leave it where it is. Thank you.

Produced by Hart House Theatre.

Began. Sept. 27, 2019.

Closes: Oct. 12, 2019.

Running Time: approx. 20 hours.

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1 David Agro October 6, 2019 at 12:43 pm

I am in total agreement with your concerns about the box office relocation, Lynn. The night I attended this show, a number of people rushed in at the very last minute, and were able to be ticketed and seated in time for curtain. Clearly not possible if the box office we’re to be moved offsite. Another woefully misconceived measure to make things easier for the organization, but not the audience!