For the first time, The Barn Theatre in Augusta has emerged from its Summer Stock mainstay to offer their truly delightful rendition of The Rocky Horror Show at the most appropriately ghoulish and freaky time of the year, though it’s actually the 12th time they've performed this campy cult classic rock musical for adoring fans both old and new.
The Rocky Horror Show falls entirely in their wheelhouse and is some of the most fun audiences have had at The Barn for decades; and yet they’ve made it new again and slightly changed its feel with new primary cast members as well as Barnie favorites — some of whom have performed in all 12 productions since 1990 — reprising their fabulous roles or in some cases, playing new ones.
The dark rock and roll musical comedy pays homage to sci-fi and horror B-movies (as well as humanity’s various shadow sides) and spoofs Frankenstein with this story of a newly engaged naive young couple who stumble upon a castle full of twisted characters who introduce them to the pleasures of fulfilling their deepest unexplored desires. (“There’s no crime in giving yourself over to pleasure,” Frank says. “There is in Augusta,” retorts savvy audience members.)
Dr. Frank-n-Furter has created a magnificent half-brained Adonis for his own titillation, but instead Janet performs her own successful seduction. Meanwhile, a former delivery boy is murdered, and creepy servants Riff Raff and Magenta reveal themselves to be aliens who plan to return to their home planet Transexual in the galaxy Transylvania, and provide the ultimate plot-twist and denouement.
The audiences — including those full of folks dressed in sparkles, boas, fishnets and glittery top hats, among others unfamiliar with the campy cult classic — will effectively influence and change the show from night to night with their interactive participation. This happens largely in scenes with Steven Lee Burright as a marvelous, stiff-upper-lip Narrator, who rolls with and plays with the punches with wonderful improvisational panache. It’s a tradition born of midnight showings of the 1975 film adaptation of the original 1973 musical.
Its creator, Richard O’Brien, who played the original Riff Raff, credits the popularity and longevity of the show to the fact that “(I)t taps into the most primal story of western civilization: the fall of man. Brad and Janet are Adam and Eve, and Frank-n-Furter is the serpent,” he’s quoted as saying in The Guardian.
Alan Palmer, making his Barn debut, plays Frank-n-Furter in this production, and he brings a sensuality and unusual compassion to the role, as well as a killer voice and the stage presence of a well-seasoned drag queen. He so fully embodies the paradox of this marvelous character with his pretty lady face and middle-aged man body, that his hair, make-up and costumes feel almost understated in the most interesting ways. It all builds the character so convincingly that by the time he sings “I’m Going Home,” it’s genuinely moving.
Other standout performances among a universally terrific cast include Barn newcomer Beau Hutchings as a particularly earnest and nerdy Brad; Melissa Cotton Hunter, who seems to effortlessly bring the camp as Janet with, her exceptional screams, as well as gorgeous singing and shameless sexual evolution; Patrick Hunter makes an indelible mark as Eddie, who emerges from the cooler for a hot minute to wow everyone with his presence; Johnnie Carpathios somehow gives the shimmering meathead beefcake Rocky depth with his comedic genius; and it’s a special treat to see Director Brendan Ragotzy bring his unique flair to the role of RIff-Raff and play with his IRL wife Penelope Alex as the sinister yet sexy Magenta.
Even for those somehow unfamiliar with the musical, much of the music is undoubtedly recognizable. Numbers run the gamut of inspiration from sweet ‘50s pop to ‘70s glam rock to funky bow-chika-wow-wow porno grooves, and Musical Director Cameron Taylor and his four-piece rock band that sounds enormous have fun with it all while also putting on a terrific show. The Barn company excels at singing this kind of classic rock, and are especially great in big corps numbers, “Science Fiction Double Feature” and “The Time Warp” among them.
The set and design concept is different than the 2016 production, with sexy, sassy, fun costumes by Nettie Fischer and Madison Merlanti; effective scenic design by Associate Producer Emeritus Dusty Reeds and Scenic Artist Steven Lee Burright with enhanced rock-n-roll effects from Lighting Designer Mike McShane as well as hand-held microphones; and original choreography by Charlie Misovye set beautifully by Sam Rickard.
It all comes together exactly as it should, with fun surprises as well as the dependably excellent artistry we expect from The Barn. It’s a wonderful bonus that they’ve brought Rocky Horror back for Halloween, and one hopes they might be starting a trend. For though Frank-n-Furter declares at an apex moment in Act II that “It’s not easy having a good time,” The Barn makes real the irony of that statement as audiences return again and again to do the “Time Warp” alongside this stupendously talented company.
Rocky Horror Picture Show
The Barn Theatre