Canstage’s heavily-hyped season-ending production of The Rocky Horror Show has finally opened at the Bluma. Last season, they finished things off with “revolutionary” 60s musical Hair, and this year they have opted for one of the 70s’ key “revolutionary” musicals. Fortunately for the audiences, Rocky is an infinitely superior show to Hair in almost every way: the songs are catchier, the characters more memorable, the plot more engaging and Canstage’s production, helmed by Ted Dyskstra (co-creator of 2 Pianos, 4 Hands and Toronto’s Hedwig), is significantly more finessed.
Rocky Horror is not the easiest musical to pull off. The movie is so iconic, the fans so hardcore and the film performances by Tim Curry, Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon so indelible that an unfocused production is bound to get dissed. And then there’s the question of whether you simply try to recreate the movie on stage, which will always be disappointing, or whether you go in a completely different direction and run the risk of missing the point entirely. The Canstage production balances somwhere between these two concepts and the result is, for the most part, successful.
We still get the familiar story: Denton High squares Brad and Janet get stuck with a flat on their way to visit Dr. Scott and wind up at a mysterious castle owned by Frank-n-Furter, a so-called “sweet transvestite” and begin an adventure of sexual self-discovery and general silliness. Dykstra cleverly keeps the “science fiction double-feature” feel intact, making Frank’s lair resemble an abandoned grindhouse (complete with popcorn machine). This works less well during the actual song “Science Fiction Double-Feature,” which is sung over a seriously unimpressive piece of AV that looks like it would take about a half hour with Google Image and Power Point to assemble. On the other end of the AV spectrum, all of the Narrator’s dialogue is delivered through pre-recorded projected images of John Neville, which the audience ate with a spoon.
There are some great performances here – Adam Brazier’s Frank is atypically butch; a muscle man in heels who wants another version of himself when he creates Rocky, who Gerrad Everard portrays as a Fabio-esque romance novel coverhunk. And Ron Pederson does a great job at finding and following Brad’s journey from straight-laced straight boy to fabulous drag queen. The biggest problem with the show is the fact that the ensemble consists of only four people, which is not enough for any musical, especially one being performed in the giant Bluma. “The Time Warp” should be a show-stopper, but the tiny chorus just seemed to get lost within the masses of empty space.
Canstage definitely know who its audience is with this production. Most of the people in the audience are going to be 50+ subscribers, not the rebellious youth, so the production is kept relatively tame. Not the most “revolutionary” take on Rocky, Canstage’s production seems at times less “erotic nightmare” and more Ross Petty Christmas panto. Still, it’s an entertaining show and probably enough to satisfy any serious Rocky-fan. It’s definitely also a show they could safely bring their parents to.