It’s hard to believe it’s been 46 years since the film The Rocky Horror Picture Show debuted in 1975. I, like many in my generation, got swept up in the cult phenomenon and attended several midnight showings, gleefully throwing rice and confetti at the screen and yelling out lines at the appropriate times.
However, before Rocky made it to the big screen, it was a musical stage production, which debuted in London in 1973. I had never seen a stage production of Rocky live, so I was quite curious about the current production at Desert Rose Playhouse—and to say it exceeded my expectations would be a huge understatement.
In case you somehow don’t know the plot: The story follows the misadventures of Brad and Janet, a newly engaged young couple who, after getting caught in a storm, stumble upon the home of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a mad transvestite scientist who has just created his own blond, tan, boy-toy version of Frankenstein.
Producers Robbie Wayne and Matthew McLean have done a masterful job of bringing the campy magic to the stage. The sets are fabulous, and the creative team makes use of high-tech multimedia and the entire theater space. This show requires a skilled use of lights, sound and special effects. Matthew McLean, Duke Core, Nick Wass and Kevin O’Shaughnessy are all up to the task and deserve special mention, as do John Hamilton Palmer and Matthew Myers for the costumes.
The cast is fabulous. The actor playing Frank-N-Furter has to set the tone for the rest of the ensemble, and the multi-talented Robbie Wayne does just that: He was absolutely born to play Frank-N-Furter. Strutting around the stage in a garter belt and heels (which show off his great legs), Wayne has the strong acting chops and soaring voice required for the role; he’s clearly having a ball. His poignant “I’m Going Home” is one of the show’s many highlights.
Phylicia Mason is perfectly cast as the innocent Janet. She makes the character’s sexual awakening seem genuine, and her light, sweet singing voice is spot-on. John Corr is just right as the lovably gawky Brad; he can really belt out a song.
The always-dependable Ben Reece is a hoot as Frank-N-Furter’s assistant, Riff Raff. Appropriately tall and creepy, with long, stringy white hair, Riff Raff is nevertheless strangely attractive as played by Reece. (Richard O’Brien’s Riff Raff, in the film, is just plain creepy.) Reece has quite an impressive singing voice, too. Lizzie Schmelling as Magenta, and Alisha Bates as Columbia, are both terrific—sexy, sultry and fun to watch.
Desert newcomer Vernon Spence does a nice job as the buff, slightly empty-headed Rocky. Looking like he just got off a surfboard in Malibu, he’s very easy on the eyes. A bit more vocal projection or a higher mic level would be helpful, though; a few of his lines were difficult to hear. Christian Quevedo acquits himself well in the dual roles of Eddie and Dr. Scott. Like many in the cast, he has a strong singing voice.
The scantily clad ensemble of “phantoms”—Cameron Merrihew, August Pearson, Keivan Safavi, April Mejia, Rebecca Ann Rodriguez and Raul Ramiro Valenzuela—ramps up the bawdiness of the show several notches. The group musical numbers are particularly strong.
Rounding out the cast is Richard Marlow as the narrator. He brings the perfect mix of sophistication, humor and foreboding to the role. The band—Jaci Davis on piano, Larry Holloway on bass, John Pagels on guitar and David Bronson on drums, under the superb musical direction of Ms. Davis—deserves special mention.
For once, Wayne—Desert Rose’s producing artistic director—doesn’t direct a show in which he also plays a key role. Instead, Mason and Rodriguez share the directing and choreographing duties, and they accomplish their mission well.
While the opening-night production wasn’t completely perfect—the play’s start was delayed a bit, and there needs to be more vocal projection here and there—these minor issues did not detract from the overall entertainment value of Desert Rose Playhouse’s The Rocky Horror Show. Whether you’ve seen the film 10 times, or you’re new to the whole Rocky Horror craze, you will love this show—and you’ll definitely be singing “Let’s Do the Time Warp Again” to yourself on the way home.
The Rocky Horror Show will be performed at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Sept. 12, at the Desert Rose Playhouse, 611 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite 16. Tickets are $34-$37; high-top tables (for four) or VIP couches (for two or three) are $175. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination is required for entry. For tickets or more information, visit desertroseplayhouse.org.