Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

The Rocky Horror Show

Santa Fe Playhouse
Review by Mark Dunn

Also see Mark's review of Rapture, Blister, Burn

Cynthia Schafer, Lauren Komer, Xavier Visage,
Orion Smith, C.J. Rodrigues and Mark Westberg

Photo by Lynn Roylance
After seeing plays about patients in a mental hospital, a troubled marriage, and a would-be rapist who gets trapped in a fireplace, I was so ready to see and review this far-from-serious stage offering. And it didn't disappoint. I was discussing with my wife Mary how to go about writing a review of a musical that has become a theatrical camp icon, which most Americans with a pulse either know by heart or have some passing familiarity with, either through the stage show or the movie that was adapted from it. ("Isn't that the one in which Tim Curry plays the androgynous, pan-sexual, cross-dressing, glam-rock-star mad scientist?") So I suggested to Mary that my review should simply be: "Come see this incredibly fun show at the Santa Fe Playhouse, unless you're a prude. In which case: stay home and miss out." Period. End of review.

And yet you really do deserve to know a few of the reasons for why you're going to enjoy this show so much. First, it tries very hard to respect the original—which, as you all know, has become a cult phenomenon both in its stage version and via midnight performances of the film. (And the audience attending this performance were ready with the water pistols and glow sticks, and armed with appropriately clever and irreverent talk-back commentary.) The Rocky Horror Show isn't just about its audience, but I can't imagine this musical with an impermeable fourth wall. Actually I can. Its first New York production in 1975 ran for only a few weeks. I think this was partly due to a buttoned-down audience that reacted to all the on-stage mayhem with only puritanical scowls.

Which brings me to this: this show is raunchy. And its skilled director Michael Blake Oldham (who appears frequently on stage to join in the fun) squeezes perhaps a little more naughtiness from it than you'd find in most fly-over American theaters. And why not? This ain't Mother Theresa: The Musical! If you're up for a total rejection of heteronormality, a whole lot of men dressing like women, and women dressing like dominatrixes and French maids, lots of thrusting and frotting and slinking and slithering in a funny, funny send-up of B-horror and sci-fi movies, you'll walk out of the theater with a goofy smile. I have to say, though, that my own goofy smile was undermined by my inability to rid myself of a maddening earworm by the name of "The Time Warp." I took that damned song to bed with me.

The cast is wonderful. I was particularly impressed by Xavier Visage's Dr. Frank N. Furter. Curry's shoes are big ones to fill, but Visage gives the role just the right amount of sultriness and sass. He's got a nice voice and perfect comic timing. Also perfect in his role as Riff Raff, butler and handyman to Frank, is Mark Westberg, whose great voice and boundless energy on the stage left me happily fatigued (though susceptible in this weakened state to Rocky Horror earworms. Grrr!) As Brad and Janet, Santiago Baca and Grace Lill were perfectly straight-laced and then just as perfectly black-laced when it came time to explore the dark sides of their natures. As Magenta, Riff Raff's sister and the maid, Rikki Carroll—a Bernadette Peters look-alike!—(who also, playing a movie theater usherette, sings the show's opening number, "Science Fiction/Double Feature,") is no slouch in the animation department. Nor is the youngest member of the cast, Lily Lardon, who plays groupie Columbia with a wise wickedness that belies her youth. Perhaps the show's funniest moments among so many are delivered by Matthew Gutierrez's Dr. Scott, who channels every 1950s sci-fi/monster movie scientist from Cecil Kellaway (The Beast from Twenty-thousand Fathoms) to Edmund Gwenn (Them!) with just a dash of Dr. Strangelove thrown in for good measure. As the eponymous Rocky, Frank's laboratory creation, Robert Henkel, Jr. sings, dances and flexes his Charles Atlas muscles to put Boris Karloff to shame.

Cheryl Odom's costumes are off-the-charts fun and imaginative. Oldham's set is snazzy and pizzazzy, and Annie' Haynes' lighting design an intricately devised kaleidoscope of extraterrestrial luminance. Christine Smith's choreography was sly and slinky, when it wasn't downright camped up to eleven. Joshua Billiter's sound design worked well in moments in which the band didn't overwhelm the singers. And about the band: they are worth the price of the ticket alone, and even got the chance to play between acts, Alex Murzyn's saxual stylings a real standout for me.

Did I need to tell you a bit of the story? Nah! Don't come for the story (which is a pastiche of every 1950s and 1960s horror, monster, and sci-fi movie you've ever seen, with a little Beach Blanket Bingo thrown in for good measure.) Come and have a great time. Leave the really little ones at home. But if you bring the older kids, be prepared to have a nice long chat with them about how it is that men can sometimes look just as good in black female lingerie as women.

And don't think about that song. Don't. You're thinking about it, aren't you?

The Rocky Horror Show, through July 1, 2018, at the Santa Fe Playhouse, 142 East De Vargas Street, Santa Fe NM. Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Info at or 505-988-4262. The running time is around two hours, with one intermission.