Despite my love for all things Halloween, camp and glam, I’ve never been to a live showing of the cult classic The Rocky Horror Show. So, when Pioneer Theatre announced their reprise of the beloved musical to honor the film’s 50th anniversary, I was delighted to be in attendance. The 2023 production is the theater’s first full production of the glam rock spectacular, having previously presented the show in concert form in 2014 and 2015. With artistic director Karen Azenberg at the helm and a brilliant cast of Broadway alumni as our ushers, I was ready to do ‘The Time Warp’ at the show’s opening night on Oct. 20th, 2023.
Since the film’s first midnight screening in 1975, Rocky Horror has built a dedicated cult following and a ritual of interactive viewing parties put on by theaters across the country. Utah audiences are among the throngs of enamored fans and were understandably thrilled at Pioneer Theatre’s announcement of a fully-realized production. “To say that Rocky Horror is a beloved show for Pioneer Theatre Company audiences would be an understatement,” says PTC’s Karen Azenberg. “In fact, when I announced the upcoming season titles during my curtain speeches this past spring, The Rocky Horror Show was always met with the loudest applause.” Pioneer Theatre’s production of The Rocky Horror Show follows the 1975 musical comedy horror film, which pays homage to science fiction and B movies. The musical follows sweetheart squares Brad and Janet as they stumble upon a bizarre gathering taking place in a mysterious mansion. Transvestite superstar scientist Dr. Frank-N-Furter and his houseful of zany characters quickly corrupt the couple and unveil a bonafide muscleman named Rocky created in a laboratory.
Along with its notable themes of punk rock and queer counter-culture, Rocky Horror celebrates originality and the liberation of self-expression. PTC’s glitzy production delivers all these virtues and more. The star-studded cast performs the original music and lyrics by Richard O’Brien. Backed by an ensemble of drive-in usherettes, Magenta (Ginger Bess) opened the show with her haunting serenade of “Science Fiction.” Shortly thereafter, the audience meets our Brad and Janet, played by Alex Walton and Alanna Saunders respectively. Utilizing props provided by PTC, the audience seeks shelter from rain with newspapers and guides Brad and Janet through the night with swaying glow sticks. Led through a series of elaborate dances and rock songs, we’re introduced to creepy butler Riff Raff (Hernando Umana) and sinister servant Columbia (Micki Martinez). Making his Pioneer Debut, Jeremiah James is our Frank, and the Broadway and West End performer exemplifies the mad scientist’s flamboyant and sinister traits. Throughout the show, narrator Steve Urguhart (narrator varies with select performances) cues the audience to play their kazoos and toss hotdogs onstage, and I’ll never get over the moments we’re encouraged to shout “ASSHOLE and “SLUT” back to the prudish Brad and Janet. It’s a deliciously irreverent experience that rattles the traditional actor-audience relationship.
Of course, half the fun of Rocky Horror is the glitz and glamor of the costumes and set design. Costume Designer Aaron Swenson adorned the cast in the iconic Rocky uniform: fishnets and corsets, but with a PTC twist. Rocky’s skintight gold speedo was certainly a highlight of the evening, and it’s not hard to see why a frenzied Frank and flustered Janet fell so hard for our man of few words. Of course a standout wardrobe moment occurred during one of the final songs “Super Heroes” in which a newly liberated Brad and Janet ditch their conservative skivvies for sparkling tutus and leather harnesses. The show’s provocative design extended into the set, where Scenic Designer George Maxwell conjured scenes of the eerie mansion and shady laboratory. A live band staged on a raised platform allowed the audience full view of impressive guitar solos and infused the performance with the spirit of rock n roll. Everything about Rocky Horror Show is camp. There are bubble guns and bedroom scenes, and of course—So. Much. Glitter.
As the audience was invited to join in one last rendition of “Time Warp” and make any final use of the props they had left, I reveled in the final moments of unbridled oddity. We’d become creatures of the night and damn was it fun.
Rocky Horror Show runs through Oct. 31st, find tickets at Pioneer Theatre’s Website.