Review: The Rocky Horror Show

Eric Ulloa as Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter in The Rocky Horror Show  Photo by K. Talley Photography

By Larry Laneer
October 10, 2019

Lyric Theatre says it will put on a new production of the musical The Rocky Horror Show every three years. We now have the latest version at the Plaza Theatre, the company’s fifth staging of the show since 2008. The production provides an excellent opportunity for Lyric to rethink its plans. Rethinking plans is good.

This inane musical with book, music, and lyrics by Richard O’Brien achieved cult status in the last century through the 1975 film adaptation, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Today, theatrical productions all over the country, including, unfortunately, Lyric, have adapted some conventions of the movie to the stage show. Someone comes out before the show and coaches the audience on the movie’s shout outs: yell “asshole” when you hear Brad’s name and “slut” when you hear Janet’s and other sanitized naughtiness. Lyric’s production seems to have slightly deemphasized that silliness now. That’s good, because these movie practices do not work with the stage show.

Because directors are dealing with inferior material in Rocky, they have trouble making it look fresh. They can make it look different. But fresh, not so much. And director J. Robert Moore (who played Frank ‘N’ Furter in Lyric’s 2016 production) does make the production look different, beginning with the red curtain across the Plaza stage. In a day when many shows eschew the curtain, it’s a welcome sight. Then, you have Frank ‘N’ Furter’s entrance, which will look familiar to theatergoers who are regulars at Lyric. I don’t think they’ve done the entrance this way before, but it’s surprising they haven’t. Oh, and Moore adds a snippet from Cats near the end, among other movie and theater references.

As Frank ‘N’ Furter, Eric Ulloa makes a tall, overbearing mad scientist in drag. Antonio Rodriguez’s Brad is more sweet than dorky (no problem with that), and Emily J. Pace as Janet is appropriately uptight.

In the second act, Janna Linae Schmid as Columbia does a frenetic solo in which she evokes Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Hillary Clinton, and Jimi Hendrix in the course of about four minutes. It’s the highlight of the show. Matthew Alvin Brown plays Dr. Scott as Dr. Strangelove. His costume reveal late in the show is a clever sight gag. It’s nice to see Brett Young (surprisingly, making his Lyric debut) doing an appropriately reserved Narrator. The buff Haulston Mann returns from the 2016 production as Rocky with a tan that looks spray-painted on. Elvie Ellis is fine as Riff Raff, as is Kat Metcalfe as Magenta.

The production underutilizes the excellent choreographer Hui Cha Poos. The show just doesn’t have that much choreography, although you will see a Poos kickline, something completely unexpected from her.

Armando Ortiz’s costumes are over the top, but Rocky can stand the highest level of garishness in costumes. Jon Young has designed a serviceable set. Twelve posters advertising real horror and sci-fi movies such as the show spoofs adorn the walls of the theater, including Queen of Outer Space (starring Zsa Zsa Gabor!) and the obscure The Day of the Triffids (with Howard Keel, who was in the original Oklahoma!).

If Lyric wants to present a new Rocky Horror every three years, that’s their business. But I wonder if this project has run its course. Five productions in 11 years is a lot of Rocky. If Lyric would like to do an old show in the same vein, how about a new look at Little Shop of Horrors in 2022 at the Plaza? It’s something to think about (and Little Shop is a much better show).

The Rocky Horror Show by Richard O’Brien (book, music, and lyrics)
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8:00 p.m. and 11:59 p.m Fridays-Saturdays,
5:00 p.m. Sundays, through November 2

Plaza Theatre
1725 NW 16th St.

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