Friday, December 2, 2011

The Rocky Horror Show at San Diego's Old Globe

Photo by Henry DiRocco.

The first weekend in November, my husband and I finally visited San Diego. We had been meaning to go for years but the flight takes about as long as to Dublin, and the Irish have real Guinness and fantastic accents. So it wasn't until the Old Globe announced it was doing the Rocky Horror Show as a fully staged (i.e., non-movie) musical that I really considered it. Then they cast a few American Idiot alumni (Andrew Call, Sydney Harcourt James, and Jeanna de Waal), and I was more interested. When I found out that (HOLY CRAP) Kelsey Kurz from the amazing Huntington Theatre production of Stephen Karam's Sons of the Prophet in Boston was going to be Brad, that did it.

I bought the tickets and emailed hubby from the car on the way out of town. (I think Lisa was driving us to Poughkeepsie to see Michael Cerveris and Michael Esper in the workshop of Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater's terrible musical The Nightingale.) I don't have a lot to say in favor of San Diego itself (if you're not a beach bum, it's pretty much boring architecture and creepily deserted of people, but Balboa Park is fantastic, and we got to see some old friends). But I LOVED the show, and I marked Rocky Horror off my bucket list.

Rocky Horror was seriously, hilariously, totally fun. All three times. I hope they'll bring this particular production to New York soon (with a few cast changes). I mean, that would be a disaster for my schedule and my bank account. But I really, really need it to happen. Unless the audiences are going to be awful. (I'm really not ok with the random yelling from the audience, though more synchronized responses like "slut" every time someone says "Janet" or "asshole" everytime someone says "Brad" are fun and don't interfere with the show.)

The design was great for the space, the costumes were excellent (the bondage-inspired ones for the final scene were INSANE and awesome), the staging was fun, and the choreography (especially for Rocky) was very cool. The show lost its Frank and its director during rehearsals, but I couldn't tell from the performance. I really want them to just ship the whole show (other than a few casting exceptions mentioned below) to New York. Immediately.

First, it was great to see Kurz in a completely different role. He has serious musical-theater comedy chops (and he's SHAMELESS, as obvious from the photo below), and I already loved him in the funny-but-serious Prophets, so I'll pretty much just follow him around to anything he's in from now on. I don't remember Sydney Harcourt James from the Idiot ensemble, but he was amazing as Rocky (especially his dancing--ok, and his 12-pack).

Although I wish her voice hadn't copied Little Nell so much, Nadine Isenegger was great as Columbia, and her tapping was ridiculous in the best way. Laura Shoop and Jason Wooten were delightfully creepy as Magenta and Riff Raff and charming as the story-framing ushers. David Andrew Macdonald as the narrator really held the show together and dealt with the vocal audience with aplomb, and he was fine as Dr. Scott, though that's a bit of a nothing role until the fishnets break out (and he has seriously nice legs). The other "phantoms" were good, Kit Treece in particular.

And now the roles I would want recast ...

Look, I like Matt McGrath. He was good even in that dreadful Nightingale musical workship, and I liked him a lot in the Atlantic Theater's production of Pinter's The Collection last season. But his voice was a bit thin for Frank 'N' Furter, and though he threw himself into the role, he was just a little below par in charisma. He was sassy and bitchy and domineering and hilarious. But Frank needs to also be irresistible or what little plot there is kind of falls apart.

I just don't like Jeanna de Waal as a performer, so I wasn't surprised that I spent the whole time wishing I had seen just about anyone else as Janet. de Waal is a fine technical dancer, and she certainly sings better than Susan Sarandon, but she has no charisma, and I just don't like how her voice sounds. That said, this is probably the role in which she will be best cast, ever. And she didn't ruin the show. So, whatever.

This breaks my heart, but I didn't love Andrew Call as Eddie. (There's a photo out there of him as Rocky in a different production, and I would have loved to see that.) His voice isn't strong enough, and (as with his performance as a St. Jimmy understudy in Idiot) he didn't have that charisma needed to really pull of this Elvis-esque role. But I loved him as one of the phantoms, and his slide down the bannister was thrilling. The boy can DANCE. And he carries a tune fine, but they really do need someone stronger, more magnetic for the role.

Now, back to something happier: KELSEY KURZ. Wow, he was completely fantastic at every moment. He was never not acting, never out of character. And Brad and Janet stand around on the sidelines a lot in this show. de Waal just took up space being not particularly Janet-like most of the time, as though she could only act if she were speaking, when she had specific direction. But Kurz just threw himself into that goofball Brad and went for it (his deliveries in Dammit, Janet were so adorkable), and he constantly reacted to everything going on around him--but not in a way that pulled focus. The more theater I see, the more I realize how difficult that must be, because when someone gets it right, it's just thrilling to watch. I'm so glad that I saw the show three times, not just because it was hella fun, but also because it gave me the chance to watch the background characters during the big numbers.

In conclusion, if you didn't see this show, I feel really sorry for you. It was totally worth the cross-country flight. And I'll be keeping an eye on future Old Globe productions.

Here, have some eye candy:

Frank and Rocky. Photo by Henry DiRocco.

In costume for Brad in the finale. Photo by Sydney Harcourt James.

You can check out the production's program here:

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