Montrealers can feast on a decadent early Halloween treat as of this week as MainLine Theatre serves up its annual revamp of Richard O’Brien’s British-American glam-rock musical The Rocky Horror Show on its main stage from October 19th to the 31st.
It’s the sexually charged and subversive stage spectacle that defied heteronormative conventions in the 1970s and became an instant sensation before being adapted into a blockbuster film in ’75 – the latter now a popular midnight showing in cinemas worldwide at this time of year.
But #RockyMainLine, now in its sixth renascence, has since spawned its own significant local fanfare, establishing itself as a mandatory pit stop on the Montreal fall entertainment circuit as the city’s only live and fully staged musical production of the queer cult classic.
There’s no silver screen in the background and toast-throwing is a definitive no-go in this version (there are real actors up there!), but the presence of a throbbing live band, vibrant choreography, and a dazzling sea of performers sheathed in fishnets galore in the intimacy of the MainLine make the theatrical variant an even more voltaic technicolour experience.
A parody tribute to the science fiction and horror B movies of the mid 20th century, Rocky Horror’s plot here remains uncorrupted: innocent newlyweds Brad Majors (asshole!) and Janet Weiss (slut!) find themselves lost and with a flat car tire on a cold and rainy night. Daring yet gullible, they venture to a nearby castle to ask for help.
At the haunted premises they encounter none other than Dr. Frank N. Furter, a self-identified “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania” who has created a living muscle man, Rocky, in his laboratory. The upright couple is soon swept into the dark world of the mad scientist and his whimsical servants, and what ensues is an outlandish story of repression and liberation, forgiveness and redemption, and birth and death.
The eclectic and electric Montreal cast features both fresh flesh and familiar faces from past MainLine Rocky bills. Returning veterans include Stephanie McKenna as Frank, Elyann Quessy as Janet, Kenny Streule as the Narrator, Sarah Kulaga-Yoskovitz as Magenta, Franco De Crescentis as Riff Raff, and Kenny Stein as Eddie / Dr. Scott. Newcomers are Adrian Macdonald as Brad, Sam Boucher as Rocky, Cassandra Bluethner as Columbia, and Tajzanna L. Hall as Usherette. The aforementioned lead, supporting, and featured players are solid musical talents all-around, and they are backed by a spirited chorus of sixteen Phantoms.
Masterminding this year’s production once again is MainLine Theatre Executive and Artistic Director, St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival Director, and Bouge d’ici Artistic Director Amy Blackmore (does anyone know how she does it all?), who returns to direct and choreograph Rocky for the third consecutive – and declaredly last – time. In on the collaborative creation are holly Greco, Patrick Lloyd Brennan, and Jessica Rae with contributions to choreography. Rounding out the dream team are Sarah Kulaga-Yoskovitz and Katherine Paradis as musical director and bandleader, respectively.
Highlights of this year’s galvanic punk-rock themed revival are the revised (but not fully reimagined) staging and choreography; Rocky gets down and dirty, but the raunchy going-ons are sharp and slick. Rolled hips, splayed legs, and come-hither catwalks propelled by O’Brien’s rousing rock score are signature moves of the floor spectacle, and the dance ensemble of Phantoms bring them to execution with intoxicating energy.
What lures and feeds the allegiant following year after year (and night after night), however, is the riotous sideshow rite of audience participation, and both traditional as well as original callback lines are here encouraged. (Hear this, Rocky virgins: you have consent to holler at the performers throughout the show. Fret not, however, as interactivity is not compulsory at any level.) Witnessing actors improvise and respond to unexpected wisecracks, puns, and sexual innuendoes of the most lovingly derogatory nature as the crowd does its thing is quite the delight in itself. Even for us buffs, it never grows old.
Sure, Rocky is comical and Rocky is camp, but there is still a certain gravitas to MainLine’s conception of Richard O’Brien’s non-nonsensical brainchild given the theatre company’s mandate of “diversity, accessibility and artistic freedom”. (Dare we argue the story draws even greater parallels to a Shakespearean or Greek tragedy of sorts with its wistful tale of a flawed hero that goes too far). In all of its DIY sensibility and self-awareness, the revival displays confidence, tact, and maturity, never taking itself too seriously while still maintaining the politics of the piece in perspective. Sexual but not overly explicit, it even presents itself as accessible to first time viewers.
Rocky seeks to empower through expression and exploration, and this pleasurable romp from the home of Montreal indie theatre virtuously strikes that chord.
“There’s a Light (Over at 3997 Saint-Laurent Boulevard)” shining bright until Halloween night. Previous runs and performances have sold out, so make your reservations online at www.mainlinetheatre.ca or by calling 514-849-3378. Tickets are $20 in advance / $25 at the door / $18 students, seniors. For audiences 18+.