The Rocky Horror Show


Closed Oct. 28

Koka Booth Amphitheater, Cary

Preshow publicity for Theatre Raleigh’s production of The Rocky Horror Show turned heads when theatrical neophyte and reality-internet paterfamilias Penn Holderness received top billing—and not in the lead role of the cross-dressing mad scientist, Frank N. Furter, but in a supporting role as Furter’s hard-rocking but treacherous servant, Riff Raff.

Yes, Holderness had previous experience in TV news and monetizing his family’s exploits on YouTube. Still, turning someone with that skill set into a triple-threat actor, singer, and dancer who could pull off a major part in a musical with the production values we’ve come to expect from Theatre Raleigh had to be similar to … well, to giving the spark of life to a muscle-bound lust object like the title character in just seven days.

Fortunately for them, director/choreographer Abbey O’Brien and music director Ethan Anderson successfully created a monster all their own by opening night. After Holderness convincingly rock-and-rolled through the venerable “Time Warp,” he’d fully earned his way on stage; there’d be no looking back.

How was the rest of the show? Glad you asked. Unsurprisingly, from the opening notes of “Sweet Transvestite,” irrepressible stage veteran Jesse Gephart commanded Josh Smith’s multi-story scaffolding set as Frank, towering over his colleagues as he stalked about in the exquisite kink (and seemingly pneumatic corset) of designer Rebecca Gossage’s costume.

As the Narrator, a grinning David Henderson clearly had had plenty of time to anticipate and craft some worthy zingers for the by-now codified audience catcalls. Carlos Alcala nailed the dweeby Brad, while Taylor Kraft unpeeled the budding sensuality of naïve Janet Weiss, and Lydia Kinton belted out a rewarding “Hot Patootie” in the cross-gender roles of Eddie/Dr. Scott. A.C. Donohue and L.E. Barone were magnetic as Magenta and Columbia, and Josh Canfield provided appropriate eye candy in the title role. Despite momentary pitch problems on opening night during “I’m Going Home,” this was a solid show throughout.

Unfortunately, Koka Booth Amphitheater wasn’t the most hospitable venue for this lovingly lurid production. When a show features songs people have been dancing to for years, and one in which the proverbial “jump to the left and then a step to the right” is a foregone conclusion, packing patrons into narrow, claustrophobic rows made audience participation problematic. When simply standing up encouraged non-consensual hip-to-headbanging between adjacent rows, that pelvic thrust had better not be truly insa-ay-ay-ane. (Which, granted, might be a good idea anyway, but really, it’s not that kind of show.)

Another thing nagged about the opening night house: The patrons who didn’t appear to be at the right show and stayed firmly rooted in the rows ahead of us. Was this what happens when cross-marketing a production—the reason for stunt-casting in the first place—isn’t entirely complementary or reciprocal? Could some of Holderness’s family-friendly online audience not have known what they were getting into when they bought their tickets? Might his brand sustain some damage as a result?

Whatever those answers may be, Rocky Horror was a toothsome trick-or-treat that Theater Raleigh should consider staging again—just in a dance-friendlier venue.