Rocky Reviewed

Terence Sullivan and Rocky Horror Cast Anticipate A Night Out to Remember for a Very Long Time

I can remember doing the Time Warp….way back before Jase Smith and his collection of usual suspects got a hold of it and made the older version (the one in the film) look as sensual as a pencil. Yep, the new version of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW delivered a lot of Smith’s re-vamped, ramped up, sexy-for-the-21st-century, vision as discussed in the pre-opening article I wrote for Richmond’s STYLE WEEKLY but some last minute doubts, a confusing set design and a mis-cast keeps this show from being the utter sensation it could be.

Let’s start with something chocolicious in the form of Joy Newsome who plays a sassy, sensual Magenta. Her song styling of the opening number, “Science Fiction Double Feature” lets the regular Frankie Fans (you know who you are) understand that this show will be different from the RHS you know but you can still love it. How could you not?  Newsome seduces with her sexy soulful sound and stripper choreography, a “Jackson” crotch grab coming on the last crescendo.  I was all in.

Then there was a little too much crotch grabbing too early in the play which sort of demystified the shock value of the act and maybe, just maybe jaded the audience a little. We need to be titillate by the crotch grabbing rather than bored by it.  But I digress…

Choreographer Maggie Marlin makes molten moves for the leather and mesh clad groupies making the scene at Frank N Furter’s sex club, The Castle, the setting Smith chose for his upgraded RHS.  They undulate and mock copulate all over the place with some kicks, spins and twists thrown in for good measure, the sexual energy perfectly tempered with utter wildness and/or flowing softness where appropriate. (HaHaHa, I just used the word appropriate in this story.) Particularly inspired is her version of “The Time Warp” so different from the standard now danced at weddings yet so true to the message and lyrics PLUS she mashed it with Madonna’s “Vogue” which totally worked in the “club” atmosphere, providing another type of time warp experience altogether. It was just so hot- I LOVED it.

Michael Hawke as the Narrator brings a mature man hotness to the role. He did play Rocky Horror in his younger days and well, he has still got it.  His Narrator is intense yet funny but towards the end of the show he gets a little too intense, rushes through his lines a bit and falls into a bad habit of dropping some words into unintelligible land.  This issue should be erased as the show continues its run and Hawke gets more comfortable with his ending speeches.

In great voice and kicking ass as the punk rocker version of Riff Raff is Nicholas Alife.

He personifies the tightly wound angst of that music genre and nails that punk styling in his songs.

Aly Wepplo and Nick Shakelford make a great Brad and Janet.  He is nerdy and goofy with a Beavis and Butthead physicality that totally works in the dynamic between his lack of lust to Janet’s looming lust.  In other words, Brad is stuck in a quixotic sophomoric mindset and he never quite goes the distance with his desire for sexual exploration as does …

Wepplo’s sexually awakening, Janet. Janet is much more freewheeling than I have ever seen her. She seems to “get it” almost from the beginning – maybe a tad too much too soon. But  Her lust IS so sincere and particularly well portrayed in during “Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch -A Me” were she is ALL over Chris Hester’s (Rocky Horror) mostly naked bod on top of a bondage table. (Lucky girl!) So that at the end the audience is unsure whether Brad and Janet are really going to go through with the marriage as there is an obvious discrepancy in their sex drives.

Smith’s idea of using drugs as the catalyst for the groupies to worship Frank is a thought provoking concept. As anyone who has any inkling about addiction and how it can drive people perform all manner of degrading acts it makes total sense for Rocky to be formed into Frank’s willing sex slave through a need for Frank’s special alien powder- and to actually enjoy it as many addicts seem to embrace punishment as part of the addiction cycle.  This concept was apparently dropped last week making Hester’s Rocky a brainless idiot, victim without context  – way too docile and complaisant and often cutesy (I love you, Chris, Honey but man it up a little here, please).  Rocky seems to just sort of bumble through the play, often running to cower in his go-go cage rather than simply running out the door of the club. It just doesn’t fly. The statement on gay marriage was also weakened with this extra victimized Rocky as the audience is at a total loss as to why he is participating in it at all, cheapening the idea that two sober consenting people of the same gender should be allowed to be married if they wish (a statement I thought Smith wanted to make- I could be wrong).

Neither did the set make a clear statement.  It was awkward for the actors and the audience as it was often unclear whether characters were in the club or out of the club unless you really knew the story.  But it did have some cool smoked glass doors that allowed for some fun shadow play and the extension built for the show gave some fun added room for Marlin to play with.

But the most painful flaw of the show was a casting gaff in which an obviously talented, Maggie Horan was misused as Columbia. The role is simply incorrect for her as a fresh ingenue type who sings (rather than being a singer who acts).  Columbia as a character is a skanky, drug- loving whore who falls madly in love with Frank, then Frank’s next plaything, Eddie.  She is the codependent female version of Frank, a self deprecating, pleasure seeker looking for approval from people who will fail to give it for long.  Horan is a sweet faced wisp of a thing who is just so adorable that in her provocative costume one might suppose Annie Warbucks fell into the set of CABARET and sang the the sexy title song as if it were “Tomorrow”, all smiles and warm fuzzies.(that might actually be hilarious to see on stage)  The problem is most apparent during “Round Like A Record” a ballad added to the show where Columbia is supposed to be exposing her inner dialog of having her fill of Frank and his emotional abuses.  There were giggles instead of tears form the audience because rather than heart-wrenching the song came off as light  “Oh well-it’ll-be- Ok-golly-gee-ish” kind of way. Her singing voice, though perfectly competent was overshadowed by the powerhouses in the cast adding to the diminishment of the character. But her valiant attempt at filling Columbia’s tap shoes made me sure I would enjoy seeing Horan in a role better suited to her talents.

The stars of the show were clearly the Sullivans.  Terence Sullivan stood out above all on the stage both literally and figuratively.  At something like 6’10” in his spiked out heals he lorded over the other actors. Operatically trained, his clear tenor singing voice boomed over the audience while his manipulation of the character produced a varied and engaging Frank N Furter.  Scantily clad in Holly Sulllivan’s (no relation) magnificently tawdry costume designs he makes Frank his own, really blossoming in the second act with “Wise up, Janet Weiss” and invoking tears from several audience members with his moving rendition of “I’m Coming Home”, sung while decked in a ostrich plume collar, gently swaying on a swing. (I get choked up just thinking about it.)

If there is ever a dull second in the show one can marvel over Ms. Sullivan’s costumes which look like a parade of this season’s hottest S&M collection. Lots of strappy, meshy, leathery, spiky little nothings up there on stage making for good food for naughty thoughts.

One other stand out moment that must be mentioned is another added song sung by Shakelford called, “Once in a While” where three band members come onto the stage to accompany him.  It is just a really fun moment.  The scruffy sweet band members in contrast to this half dressed guy singing a tender ballad- you get it.

Overall there is much more to marvel over in this show than to gripe about.  It is not perfect but it is really good and totally fun for RHS virgins and sluts. It is the fifth, and on of  the best, of Jase’s Naughty Firehouse Summer Musical Theater Camp for Wayward Actors productions so get your leather on and go see it.  Besides, Smith challenges us fans to stretch our perceptions of the story while indulging us in a little traditional Time Warp Action at the end. Why would you want to miss out on that?

Who knows you might get so hot and bothered with this sexy summer sizzler that you would be inspired to explore a little more, more, more, more in some intimate areas of your ….life.

Sullivan brings it home in fishnets,fringe and ostrich plumes                                                                     photos by Jay Paul

Rocky Horror: De-Camped and Re-Vamped

Below is a story I wrote for STYLE WEEKLY about the Firehouse Theatre Project’s upcoming production of  THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW.



Camp Revamped

Firehouse Theatre Project stages a darker, sexier version of “Rocky Horror.”




click to enlargeLab coats are so 1975. On stage at the Firehouse Theatre, you'll find Dr. Frank N. Furter (Terence Sullivan) and his willing victim Rocky (Chris Hester) in leather and spikes. - Adam Ewing

  • Adam Ewing
  • Lab coats are so 1975. On stage at the Firehouse Theatre, you’ll find Dr. Frank N. Furter (Terence Sullivan) and his willing victim Rocky (Chris Hester) in leather and spikes.

I can recall doing the “Time Warp” for the very first time. I was 15 when I saw “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” in the late ’70s, and it changed my life. The film was a titillating thrill ride with a message of sexual acceptance delivered in a palatable mock-shock-horror format — perfect for those of us at the precipice of our sexuality. Fast-forward to the desensitized 21st century, in which grandmothers dance the “Time Warp” at weddings and the film is telecast every Halloween. Where can a Transylvanian find a thrill these days?

Enter Jase Smith, director of the Firehouse Theatre Project’s production of “The Rocky Horror Show.” Smith aims to give the show a jolt that should reawaken audiences to the story and redefine the parameters of acceptable naughtiness. “I feel that being shocking is part of getting those messages across,” Smith says.

Smith and his design team — musical director Leilani Giles, choreographer Maggie Marlin, set and lighting designer David McLain and costumer Holly Sullivan — are creating an edgier, dirtier world, with some new material added to excite the jaded. Dr. Frank N. Furter lords over a remote sex club rather than a castle. The costumes have been upgraded from bustiers, pumps and fishnets to all-out sado-masochism gear with lots of leather, straps and spikes. Gone is the electrified, rainbow ritual to create the monster. “In this version, Rocky is not manufactured, he is created,” Smith says. “He comes into the club and is converted into Frank N. Furter’s submissive through drugs and bondage. He is a willing participant.”

Inspired by recordings from the 2003 album “The Rocky Horror Punk Rock Show” and the new Broadway cast soundtrack, Giles has updated some of the music as well. Two songs have been added: “See You Round Like a Record” (recorded by Little Nell Campbell, who played Columbia in the film) and the theme song from the Rocky Horror follow-up, “Shock Treatment.”

Cult devotees know that throwing rice, toast and toilet paper are de rigueur at midnight showings of the film. Not at the Firehouse, please. In order for audiences to focus on the story, Smith requests that props be left at home. “It’s really important that people understand that this isn’t camp,” says Terence Sullivan, who plays Furter. “This show intelligently tells a story that is emotionally, politically and sexually charged. People must connect to it in the context of now.”

The result is a peculiar alchemy of emotion and titillation. “Foremost, I want people to rediscover a reason to cry when Frank dies,” Smith says. “And secondly, I want people to go away and think about visiting Taboo and maybe buy some handcuffs.” S

“The Rocky Horror Show” runs July 19-Aug. 1, Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. at the Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad St. Tickets are $28 for general admission, $26 for seniors and $14 for students. For information call 355-2001 or visit

Blog at