You probably already know if you’re a “Rocky Horror” fan or not; the seminal 1970s stage show and film introduced a whole new world of blended camp, erotica, musical theater, homage, and gentle parody. And from there, three generations of young people embraced the hedonistic and spooky fun of “Rocky” in late-night revivals and simultaneous reenactments alongside the film every fall. In its prior incarnation, the Bucks County Playhouse was infamous for such a presentation, complete with audience participation (if you know the show, you know where you’re supposed to yell things at the characters, throw rice, unfold a newspaper, etc).
Well, “The Rocky Horror Show” is back in New Hope, as a rocking stage show complete with new twists, bold interpretations, and plenty of reverence for what’s come before. Director Hunter Foster has put together an astoundingly entertaining production. If you’re a fan of the show or film, this is a can’t-miss spectacle, and even if you’re not, this is one hell of a good time this Halloween season.
Now, let’s be honest — none of us are seeing this show for the plot, but just in case: earnest and innocent young lovebirds Brad (Nick Cearley) and Janet (Lauren Molina) are stranded at the roadside one dark and stormy night and are swept up into a spooky and naughty tornado of kinky and horrific delights as the enigmatic transvestite Dr. Frank N. Furter (Kevin Cahoon) and his sidekicks Riff-Raff (Jeremy Kushnier), Magenta (Alyssa DiPalma), and Columbia (Jennifer Cody) invite them into their castle, where the doctor has created Rocky (Nick Adams), the perfect Adonis of a man. This whole story is narrated by a snooty storyteller, and that’s part of the fun — I can’t believe I just wrote out the story of the show like that, because, while it’s a true accounting of events, it’s just not the reason to see “Rocky Horror.” It’s all about the winking acknowledgements to past and present incarnations of campy horror, and the now legendary music, and the gender-bending and softly-scary elements, and the heady amounts of sex. And man, is there a lot of sex.
Hunter Foster gleefully acknowledges all of the above, and the real genius of this production comes in the twists, flourishes, and additions to the story. A downright brilliant sequence in the midst of “There’s a Light (Over at the Frankenstein Place)” pays a joyous respect to 30 years of great characters in horror films, while also eliciting raucous laughter. It’s such a good gag that I’m stunned no one’s thought of it before, and I refuse to spoil it here.
Foster’s cast picks up on this vibe of respect and reinvention and runs with it — Janet and Brad are chock-full of the mousy charm and sexual repression we’re used to, but there’s also this great underlying vibe of woeful mismatch in the two. It makes their sexual dalliances later in the show that much more fun. Kevin Cahoon’s Frank has a little more punk rock androgyny than we’re used to from the role made famous by Tim Curry, but it works, and Cahoon’s impish charm really works. Riff-Raff and Magenta have a much rougher edge to them here — Kushnier has an A-1 rock tenor that just wails through the theater, and DiPalma presents a gorgeous sense of sensual boredom that would be as at home in a production of “Cabaret” as it is here. Nick Adams’ Rocky is also given a lot more to do than usual, and his railing against his fate as Frank’s custom-built lover leads to a lot of fun bits and scenery chewing. Every single cast member is clearly having a ball, and they’re all beautifully wrapped up in Nicole V. Moody’s elegant costumes.
The playful vibe extends into every aspect of the show, from David L. Arsenault and Wilson Chin’s atmospheric set design — which calls to mind the set of “The Muppet Show” in its multifaceted, goofy-science-fiction feel — and the excellent stage band, under the leadership of Alex Harrington. At one point, I heard the Beatles’ “Come Together” as a pre-show song, and somehow, it totally fit.
This is a seriously well-put-together piece of theater that refuses to take itself too seriously, and if this past weekend was any indication, tickets will be hard to come by for the rest of the run. You’re not going to find Halloween entertainment better than this, anywhere. Get ready to do the Time Warp again, friends. Go see this show.
The Rocky Horror Show, Bucks County Playhouse, 70 South Main Street, New Hope. Through Saturday, November 2. Wednesday, October 30, Thursday, October 31, 7:30 and 11:30 p.m., Saturday, November 1, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, November 2, 7:30 and 11:30 p.m. $25 to $49. 215-862-2121 or www.bcptheater.org.