“The Rocky Horror Show” is usually brought to the stage around Halloween, but Fabrefaction Theatre has given the whole thing a peppermint-flavored twist by rolling out its production at Christmastime. It’s an appealing option: When audiences have had enough of Handel’s Hallelujahs, Scrooge’s humbugs, and ballerinas en pointe in sugar-coated candy kingdoms, they can balance things out by singing along with sweet transvestites in bustiers doing the Time Warp. Works for me.
Fabrefaction’s show is being billed as a Christmas-themed “Rocky Horror,” and although the set and costumes in artistic director Christina Hoff’s production have a Yuletide theme, the bulk of the script and songs remain unchanged. The production is actually a pretty straightforward (if that’s the right word) “Rocky Horror.” It’s energetic and funny, and it carries the right amount of chaos and weirdness.
I imagine that by now nearly everyone on the planet (Janet) has seen the show or movie at least once, but for those who haven’t: it’s a mash-up of ’40s and ’50s horror movie tropes with cross-dressing, sexual liberation, and really great, super-catchy rock songs. The film based on the 1973 stage show became a cult classic when it was shown as a midnight movie and audience members began speaking back to the screen and bringing objects to make it an interactive event, like water pistols to shoot during a rain scene.
Participation became a point of contention with my regular theater companion who refused to go because he was scared he’d be forced to put on a feather boa and dance the Time Warp or something. I can report back: participation at Fabrefaction’s production is welcomed but not mandatory.
Tim Curry owned the part of Frank N. Furter in the original show and in the movie so thoroughly that stage actors often feel constrained to imitate him or else they go in the opposite direction: they self-consciously try to innovate (Frank can be bald! Female! Pathologically shy!). Newcomer Jake Mullen strikes a nice balance between homage to the iconic performance and staking out a bit of new territory: his singing style, inflection, and humor remain uniquely his own. His look in act one, I thought, was a little too Curry. The red wig he wore for his curtain call was by far Mullen’s best look: it should have made an appearance earlier in the show, if not throughout.
The band sounded great, but they could have turned it up a notch. It doesn’t have to go all the way to “11,” but the music needed more of a rough live sound, more chaotic rock’n’roll edge and bite. Some of the up-tempo songs seemed rushed, too. Slow it down and crank it up.
But for the most part, Fabrefaction’s “Rocky Horror” evokes the late-night amorphous weirdness that makes for a memorable production. If the mood hits you right (and the Jell-O shooters they’re selling in the lobby can help) “Rocky Horror” is great Christmas entertainment. It may not be a production you’ll remember for groundbreaking innovations, but everything seems just as it should be: Frank is wild, Rocky is cute, Brad and Janet are square. If anything, it’s a production that serves to demonstrate that the show’s unconventional conventions can be every bit as robust and timelessly effective as those of “A Christmas Carol” or “The Nutcracker.”