Before I begin my review of the Burien Actors Theatre’s (BAT) rendition of The Rocky Horror Show, I feel it necessary to discuss some of the history of the show, because to the uninitiated it isn’t just your run-of-the-mill musical. So let me preface this review by briefly delving into the history of the show and why it continues to be such an iconic piece of pop culture throughout the world since its creation.
It’s hard to believe that The Rocky Horror Picture Show is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year. While its popularity continues to pass on from generation to generation, it isn’t well known that its roots are firmly planted in live theater. Originally written by Richard O’Brien in 1973 as a musical. Its success on the live stage, coupled with its popularity in Los Angeles, helped paved the way for the cult classic film.
From left to right, Brad (Tony “Ton” Williams), Rocky (Travis Martinez), Dr. Frank ’N’ Furter (Shane Patrick Hoffmann), Columbia (Megan Ruth Smith) and Janet (Kenn Pridgen) perform in a floor show at the command of Dr. Frank ’N’ Furter.
While the film didn’t initially do well, it did find a cult following in New York and Los Angeles. Devout fans of the show made each of it’s midnight screenings an event beyond just the film. Not only did the midnight screening audience show up to theaters dressing as one of the shows characters, but they also became part of the show. Those attending Rocky’s midnight screenings started “heckling” the characters on screen. This tradition of responding to the shows dialog has become an expected part of the experience of going to this show.
This is how one of the most important pieces of LGBTQ+ entertainment became such a cultural phenomenon. Rocky shows have been a harbor for counter culture communities ever since its release, and it continues to be one of the most important and unique theater experiences out there to date.
BAT’s version brings the cult classic experience to the small stage with nothing left out, including a healthy dose of audience participation. All the songs are performed and all of the shows iconic scenes are faithfully reproduced (Stage Direction by Marc Moser, Stage Management by Heather Bernadette). It genuinely feels like the experience you’d expect from attending a midnight screening of the movie, with less popcorn however.
Rocky begins with the Narrator (played by Greg Michaels) as he introduces us to Brad and Janet, two newly engaged lovers (played by Tony Williams and Kenn Pridgen). The pair are driving down a dark and terrible road, when all of a sudden one of the wheels of their car goes flat (“Phantoms” played by Maureen Coulton, Claire Ingalls, Olivia Robinson and Tiana Ross). Stormy weather causes the pair to seek refuge in an eerie manor nearby, where they are greeted by the strange and creepy Riff Raff and Magenta (played by Thomas Thompson and Kim Orcutt). They inevitably meet the eccentric head of the household Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter (played by Shane Patrick Hoffmann), who introduces himself as a transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania.
The show only gets crazier from here when Dr. Furter invites Brad and Janet to his laboratory where he reveals Rocky (played by Travis Martinez), his latest hunky creation.
The first act ends when Eddie (played by Max Lopuszynski), former lover of Dr. Furter and Colombia (played by Megan Smith) bursts out of a Coca-Cola ice chest, hell bent on trashing Dr. Furter’s Lab and taking Colombia away from the manor. This alarms Dr. Furter, who shoves Eddie back into the ice chest where he promptly hacks him to death.
The songs are well executed and the singing is performed well, and the dancing fit each song perfectly (Music Direction and Choreography by Gayle Staker). Spoken dialog can be heard clearly (sound by Eric Dickman), and microphones help the actors be heard over the live band that belts the rock n’ roll tunes of the show (band members are Aimee Hong as bandleader on keyboards, Brian Keiper on lead guitar, Julie Felts on bass guitar, Cody Clark (Feb. 21-March 1) and Dr. William Bryant (March 6-March 22) sharing the saxophone position, and Tai Taitano on drums).
The set fits each scene well, and the costumes are faithful to the original, complete with corset and lingerie (set by Albie Clementi, props and set dressing by Cyndi Baumgardner and costumes by Marian Mays).
While audience members are encouraged to show up in costume, and encouraged to participate, BAT has requested that no outside items be brought in, and will provide participation kits for audience members to purchase for $5. There is a short break between the two acts, which allows audience members to purchase beverages (adult and otherwise), as well as snacks, all provided in house by BAT.
The Rocky Horror Show is showing at the Burien Actors Theatre from Feb. 21st through Mar. 22nd. Show times begin at 8 PM Friday and Saturday evening, and 2 PM on Sundays. The BAT is located at 14501 4th Avenue SW in Burien. Tickets are $10 for students, $20 for seniors and active military and $25 for everyone else. There is a special group rate of $17 if you purchase 10 or more tickets. Parking is free.
The Burien Actors Theatre has been performing shows in the Puget Sound area for over 35 years, and is a non-profit 501(c)(3) entity that relies heavily on ticket revenue, donations and volunteer help.
Normally this is where I would end my review of the latest BAT show, however, the second half of this BAT season has presented a big problem. BAT is being evicted along with all the other tenants that utilize the building for reasons beyond their control! Following Rocky there will be only one more show, at least in BAT’s current home. This might be some of the last few shows BAT has (at least in Burien).
Over the years, this small theater and its troupe of performers and theater enthusiasts has become something special to me. I have never hidden my appreciation for the small intimate productions that BAT produces. The small venue performance is an experience that everyone should try at least once. I hardly ever write about its effect but it provides less of a barrier between stage and audience. Characters are not just physically closer, but their proximity can draw you into the show more.
I’m not asking you all to write in protest to save the BAT, merely just that you give it a chance if you’ve passed on going to see a BAT show before. This is probably going to be one of the last chances you’ll get to see a unique group of artists put on one of their best performances to date. Get your tickets before all showings are sold out!