There is so much to love about the new “Rocky Horror Show” at the newly-renovated Circa ’21 Speakeasy in downtown Rock Island.
But if you don’t have tickets yet for its second and final weekend, you have to move FAST – as of 10 a.m. Monday, only about eight seats are left for just one available performance, Friday, Oct. 28, at 11 p.m.
I saw the first one, last Friday at 7 p.m., and it was by far the best “Rocky Horror” I have ever seen. The stars – on and off stage – have certainly aligned, and the sold-out crowd (many in show-appropriate garb) was ready to have fun. And boy, did we.
The 13th consecutive year of a live “Rocky Horror” in the Quad Cities (and seventh year at The Speakeasy), the new production is helmed by Circa and “Rocky” veteran Tristan Tapscott. His top-notch crew includes musical director Bobby Becher, choreographer and costume designer Ashley Mills Becher, sound designer Jeremy Littlejohn, and lighting designer Cameron Strandin.
There are many “Rocky” veterans in the super energetic, uninhibited cast as well, led by longtime narrator Doug Kutzli, who is the suave, confident tour guide to what’s always seemed to be an X-rated Land of Misfit Toys.
The original London production of The Rocky Horror Show premiered in June 1973 and won the Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Musical.
On March 10, 1975, The Rocky Horror Show opened on Broadway at the Belasco Theatre, starring Tim Curry as Frank and featuring Meat Loaf and “Ritz” O’Brien.
A hilarious, gleefully raunchy tribute to the science-fiction and B-horror films of the 1930s to the early 1960s, the wacky musical tells the story of a newly engaged couple getting caught in a storm and coming to the home of a mad transvestite scientist, Frank-N-Furter, unveiling his new creation, a sort of Frankenstein-style monster in the form of an artificially made, fully grown, physically perfect muscle man named Rocky, complete with blond hair and a tan.
The show was adapted into the 1975 cult classic film “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” starring O’Brien as Riff-Raff, Susan Sarandon as Janet, Barry Bostwick as Brad and Curry also reprising his role.
Patrons at the Speakeasy (1818 3rd Ave., Rock Island) were asked if this was their first “Rocky,” and if so, they got a red V on their forehead (for “virgin”), and Kutzli happily exclaimed at the start of the show, “We will not be gentle with you because it’s your first time.” He also gave us key instructions on what to yell out whenever we heard the full names of the nerdy, nervous, innocent protagonists – Brad (Nick Munson) and Janet (Savannah Bay Strandin).
Other callbacks (before and after many lines of dialogue) “are not only welcome but expected,” Kutzli said, and the audience enthusiastically obliged.
Compared to most musical theater, “Rocky Horror” is a thrillingly interactive show (as audiences were also encouraged to buy $4 prop bags, to use in the show), as the wildly costumed characters pranced and danced back and forth from the stage throughout the 125-seat venue.
For example, at the show start, the excellent Taylor Lynn and Kiera Lynn entered from the back of the room as Magenta and Columbia, initially outfitted in matching red, kinda like demented versions of Little Orphan Annie.
Everyone in the nine-member cast nails their part, and this “Rocky” is a rollicking rollercoaster, a literal joyride.
Chase Austin steals every scene he’s in as the mad Frank, and whether it’s due to his heavy makeup or large, expressive eyes, Austin seems to have a perpetual leer on his face. Tall and fittingly flamboyant, he often struts like a pleased peacock.
In a show known for gender-flipping roles and actors, this one has a dominant Kira Rangel as Riff-Raff, who is Magenta’s brother. With her blonde wig and low-cut vest (which she is often on the verge of bursting out of), Rangel puts a different spin on the character who provides a dramatic climax to the plot.
“Rocky Horror” is also known for baring a lot of skin – as Munson and Strandin are stripped to their underwear fairly early on, and Adam Cerny as the wild title character sports nothing but tight golden underwear and body glitter. He switches to a black S & M-type outfit later.
New Circa ’21 costume designer Bradley Jensen also shines as Eddie and Doctor Scott.
Austin as Frank commands both the cast and audience in giving in to absolute pleasure, and everything combines to make the experience a carefree delight. When he leads the heartfelt ballad in the second act, “Don’t Dream It, Be It,” that seems to be the anthem of the show – a plea for tolerance, persistence, and individuality.
This glorious, over-the-top “Rocky” closes Sunday, Oct. 30. For the 11 p.m. performances, you must be 21 or older to attend. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 the day of the show, available by calling 309-783-7733, ext. 2 (online reservations not currently available).