The horror, the horror!

QMT’s version of The Rocky Horror Show makes it their own, updating, changing and not relying heavily on the famous film adaptation of the piece

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“It’s a lot of work having a good time,” Rocky Horror’s diva Frankenfurter moans. His claim is just as true for those outside the Transylvanian universe as it is for the characters. Not that much exertion is required on the part of the audience—the show wheels us right into the realm of absolute pleasure. For the Queen’s Musical Theatre team, however, it’s a different story. The meticulous and nuanced production makes it hard to ignore the amount of work that goes into a seamless good time.

Directed by Hallae Khosravi, QMT’s Rocky Horror Show interprets Richard O’Brien’s stage production cult classic with a shift in tone. The show is both funny and sexy, with powerplay and gender bending taking centre stage. With a sixteen-person cast of potential vocal soloists and an eight-piece band setting, the visual candy is complemented well. Although occasionally inconsistent, moments of perfection outnumber the stumbles.

If you’re expecting a familiar Rocky Horror experience, with rousing musical numbers and overtop eroticism, you won’t be disappointed. QMT’s production delivers the expected whirlwind of campy brilliance, with a sophisticated choreographic characterization while keeping the cast writhing and pawing throughout.

That’s not to say this production doesn’t hold surprises. For one, Frankenfurter’s mansion is now a condemned theatre. The slightly self-referential and just-meta-enough twist on the tale fits. The set is dynamic and convincing, although its relevance is dubious. Shy of an offhand remark, there doesn’t seem to be much acknowledgement of the creative setting.

Costuming is also updated, not harkening back to the film as many contemporary productions do, but downplaying the glam for less gaudy outfits. The designs are kinky enough to be campy, but glitter-free enough to still be sexy. A spider theme weaves a new spin on the Transylvanians aesthetic choices, perhaps meant to compliment the dust of the old theatre.

The marriage of funny and hot is particularly successful in this production, laughing at the antics of the characters without entirely losing the desire to sleep with them.

This is especially evident in the characterization of Rocky, played by Evan Watts. While Rocky is a lisping dunce of a meathead, he has moments of self-aware snark and insubordination in a refreshing tone. Long before Rocky rebels by responding to Blythe Hubbard’s Janet’s cries and growls of “Touch me!” Watts hints at a coming transgression.

The subtle deviations and additions by the QMT team make for a titillating—both sexually, and dare I argue, intellectually—production. Gazes between characters show dynamics that hint both toward the play’s eventual role-reversals and at a sadomasochistic sexuality underlying the cross-dressing kink.

Transgression and insubordination colours the piece. Just as Rocky’s character hinted at his coming rebellion, Riff Raff’s later mutiny is set up well with contemptuous stares. Calum Mew is notable in his portrayal of Riff Raff as merely condescending to Frankenfurter’s whims. He is more boiling than brooding, exuding a barely-constrained controlling sexuality over everyone. The chemistry between Kevin Doe’s charmingly megalomaniac Frankenfurter and Mew’s Riff Raff deserves a spin off of its own. That said, there are moments when Mew’s act falters with a flat tone, the cold commanding presence of Riff Raff reduced to cardboard.

This covert, arguably more powerful, restrained sexuality also appears in the cocky professional narration of Lauren Kerbel. A strong female character, her lines sound like a raised eyebrow. She poises on the edge of the action, occasionally entering to interact with the cast while unabashedly writing. Her calculating and cocky demeanor is a successful juxtaposition to the orgasmic expressions of the rest of the cast. This Rocky Horror Show shoots for subtlety in some moments and outrageous caricature the next, creating a production more captivating in its dynamism.

The QMT team plays with power and gender like putty, with revolving positions of control and fluid shifting balances between the masculine and feminine in Rocky Horror’s gender bending ways. From outright surprises in sex scenes as to who’s on top or who’s blowing who to the less overt winking gaits and gazes, QMT’s Rocky tweaks sexual expectations.

This is an example of QMT’s inconsistency at its finest, intentional changes in tone which are playful and keep us guessing. But the musical does have its less appropriately inconsistent moments. The second act falters with its abundance of ballads. Of course, these scenes are inherently less exciting than the elicit touches and timewarps, but the saccharine solos make their length known. Perhaps more emotional depth, or more overwrought parodist hamming would break up the static development and confusing expository moments.

The show is soon redeemed by perfectly textured blocking and tableau in the final scenes. The culmination of earlier careful development explodes with rigour and tumbling changes of fortune. It’s so much enchanting fun you won’t even notice the hinting at a darker power struggle—and isn’t that the best kind?

The Rocky Horror Show runs from Jan. 15 to Jan 23. Tickets are available now at Destinations or online at queensmusicaltheatre.com.

Famous Franks

Kevin Doe plays the infamous Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Show. Many other men have got-up in gal get-up for the role of Frank-N-Furter. Here’s a list of just a few:

•Russell Crowe

•Tim Curry

•Terrence Mann

• Craig McLachlan

•Jef Valentine

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