Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

The Rocky Horror Show
The Old Globe

Sydney James Harcourt and Cast
The various incarnations of The Rocky Horror Show have uneasily straddled lines between tradition and transgression, between parody and camp. Too much transgression and too much reliance on camp can spoil the fun. Too little and the show's a bore. The Old Globe's production of what is now officially called Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Show is a mixed bag: about the right amount of transgression but too little camp.

The mixed result is probably no surprise, as the production was troubled throughout much of its planning and execution. Eyebrows were lifted when the Globe announced the production as the opener for its fall/winter season; the La Jolla Playhouse might have gotten away with a revival, especially under former artistic director Des McAnuff, but the Globe's mainstage audience is used to more traditional musicals, such as last spring's Emma. Eyebrows were lifted again when James Barbour was cast as Dr. Frank 'N' Furter, as theatre watchers here were well aware of Mr. Barbour's troubles with the law several years ago. Sure enough, one of the local papers ran a story, and a conservative talk show host mounted a campaign to pressure the Globe to fire Mr. Barbour (officially, Mr. Barbour left the show to be with his wife during the last stages of their pregnancy). Finally, about two weeks before previews began, director Oanh Nguyen announced that he was departing due to "artistic differences." Mr. Nguyen, the artistic director of Orange County's Chance Theatre, has a reputation for pushing the envelope in his small theatre in a nondescript industrial complex, particularly with revivals of musicals. Apparently, the Globe's management did not want the envelope to be pushed as far as Mr. Nguyen wanted to push it. James Vásquez, a rising local director with a degree from Julliard, replaced Mr. Nguyen.

The plot parodies 1950s horror and science fiction films with a rock score. Newly engaged Brad (Kelsey Kurz) and Janet (Jeanna de Waal) have a flat tire on their way to visiting Dr. Scott (David Andrew Macdonald, who doubles as the narrator), their former science teacher. Making their way through the rain on a dark night to a castle, they discover that they have stumbled into a hedonistic fun house where Dr. Frank 'N' Furter (Matt McGrath) and his manservant Riff Raff (Jason Wooten) are making a creature called Rocky (Sydney James Harcourt). Brad and Janet become caught up in the sexually charged atmosphere, though things turn darker with the arrival of Dr. Scott and the revelation that the whole operation is really from outer space.

From a technical standpoint, the production is sure footed. Donyale Werle (Scenic Design), Emily Rebholz (Costume Design), Rui Rita (Lighting Design), Kevin Kennedy (Sound Design) and Aaron Rhyne (Projection Design) all produce high quality work. JT Horenstein's energetic musical staging and choreography are a highlight, and Mike Wilkins, Mr. Nguyen's musical director at Chance, prepared both the singers and the band well, and conducts with aplomb from a perch at the top of the set.

Finding the right tone proves to be a problem, though. Rocky Horror became a cult hit once the film version started to be shown at midnight, and an entire audience participation routine built up at its showings, spread through word-of-mouth. The theatre version wasn't designed to have the audience take over the show, though, so stage directors have to tread lightly in encouraging and discouraging participation. The Globe sells audience members a participation goodie bag, along with instructions about when to use the individual items. Not everyone purchases the bag, though, so the effect is spotty. So, too, are attempts to get the audience to clap along and even dance along (to a reprise of "Time Warp" at the curtain call—there just isn't enough room between the rows for audience members to execute the dance moves).

Mr. Kurtz and Ms. de Waal exhibit good looks and strong voices as Brad and Janet, and Mr. Macdonald is an appropriately droll narrator, though his Dr. Scott is less successful. Mr. Wooton, late of the Hair revival cast, tries walking through the audience on chair arms to little effect, and his Riff Raff never seems quite comfortably inside the production. Mr. Harcourt not only has the muscles for Rocky, but he sings and dances up a storm.

Mr. McGrath has some experience from which to draw, as he played the title character in Hedwig and the Angry Inch Off-Broadway. But, while his singing scores, his presence isn't sexually dangerous enough to draw the audience in with the kind of hypnotic fascination that made those old B-movies so addictive. A little more camp all the way around wouldn't hurt; the older couple who marched up the aisle after the sex scenes in act two at the performance I attended probably would have left in any case.

The Old Globe has produced a technically fine but somewhat under-powered revival of Rocky Horror. The show runs through November 6, so perhaps playing it in front of audiences will allow the cast to find that hard-to-discern line between tradition and transgression.

Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Show, through November 6, 2011, at the Old Globe Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, in San Diego's Balboa Park. Tickets ($29 - $93) available by calling (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623] or by visiting the Old Globe's website at

The Old Globe presents Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Show, Book, Music and Lyrics by Richard O'Brien. Directed by James Vásquez with JT Horenstein (Musical Staging and Choreographer), Mike Wilkins (Music Direction), Donyale Werle (Scenic Design), Emily Rebholz (Costume Design), Rui Rita (Lighting Design), Kevin Kennedy (Sound Design), Aaron Rhyne (Projection Design), Carrie Gardner, CSA (Casting) and Anjee Nero (Stage Manager).

The cast includes Andrew Call (Eddie, Phantom), Jeanna de Waal (Janet), Sydney James Harcourt (Rocky), Nadine Isenegger (Columbia), Lauren Lim Jackson (Phantom), Kelsey Kurz (Brad), David Andrew Macdonald (Narrator, Dr. Scott), Matt McGrath (Frank ‘N' Furter), Anna Schnaitter (Phantom), Laura Shoop (Magenta, Usherette), Kit Treece (Phantom) and Jason Wooten (Riff Raff, Usher).

Photo: Henry DiRocco

See the current season schedule for the San Diego area.

- Bill Eadie

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