Michael Detmer & cast in The Rocky Horror Show. Photo: TimeSlip

The Rocky Horror Show

Music, lyrics, & book by Richard O’Brien   
Directed by Remy Sisk

A review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

I was never a Rocky Horror “cultist” – I certainly am not tuned in to what, if any, moniker, the devotees of this show use to describe themselves – but I remember reading about the stage show in London and Los Angeles in 1973 and seeing the trailer for the 1975 film before its initial release. The movie bombed but I first saw it at The Vogue Theatre as one of the legendary Midnight audiences of the 1980s. I liked it, even though it is at times amateurish in its execution. But Tim Curry gives an iconic performance like many others in that memorable cast. Finally, I went multiple times to see the hugely enjoyable Louisville premiere of the stage production at Actors Theatre of Louisville. It was wildly popular and extended its run by two weeks.

So I do bring high expectations to any new production. But like any venerable classic, The Rocky Horror Show has undergone many permutations since it premiered in a small London theatre 50 years ago. So color me delighted at the fresh and original take provided by Timeslip Theatre.

This Rocky is not exactly traditional theatre. Instead, it is cabaret, burlesque, drag show, a cheeky and raucous meta exercise in theatrical identity, and a Rocky that could only exist in Louisville. It is swift and tight and steps lightly through the plot while injecting the musical numbers with an analogous energy that gives the production its own identity, and it largely discards the familiar sci-fi design aesthetic to emphasize the sexual freedom and gender fluidity of the original concept. Weren’t the 1970s wonderful?

The score is prerecorded, and produced by the company to be decidedly apart from the original and most other productions, designed like house music to keep the score constant and propulsive. This Rocky is stripped down narratively to run about 60 minutes and the music is driving.

Jaclyn Lyons’ costumes the show in the appropriate blend of BDSM and camp, emphasizing the shapes and curves of the range of body types that populate the stage. This is a very sexy show because it is inclusive and unabashed in celebrating the diversity of the human form.

The vampire-like Frank-N-Furter you expect is here occupied by the highly engaging May O’Nays in a vivacious turn that has not a hint of the undead but all the transvestite required and then some. I am a fan of May O’Nays and she is given the space to bring her individual identity to the forefront and her sass and style fit the production surprisingly well. 

Michael Detmer is in fine voice as Riff Raff and leads The Time Warp in customary high-energy form, but his best character moments were in the climactic scenes. Celeste Vonderschmidt is a terrific Magenta and Sara Bell is a sparkling Columbia. Bell’s dazzling smile and shining eyes cannot be dimmed by a Halloween orange wig or the smoke effects. 

William Nickels and Olivia Duff do all of the requisite nerd disingenuousness and elicit the largest vocalizations from the audience that originated with the Midnight ritual. “Asshole” and “slut” were frequently exclaimed and, although nothing was thrown at the stage, I saw a few people sheepishly cover their heads with newspaper. Even though the curtain was at 8:00 p.m. in Louisville, it was midnight over at the Frankenstein place. 

I feel like Peighton Radlein is an untapped treasure in Louisville theatre, always delivering what is required but only occasionally properly challenged. As Eddie, she throws off the restraints of an ensemble player and kicks “Whatever Happened to Saturday Night” to another level even for this production. Director and choreographer Remy Sisk also plays the muscle-bound “Rocky” with good skill and energy but it is behind-the-scenes roles that are probably more crucial here and his stagging and pace are sharp.

Since they are not listed officially, I am uncertain as to their precise billing, but Naomi Wayne (formerly Gilda Wabbitt) essayed the Narrator role with a languid wit, while Myranda Thomas let her powerhouse vocals transform Dr. Scott from an aging male academic to a modern-day androgynous nebbish with an unexpected kick.

TimeSlip Theatre has been ambitious since developing a permanent home on Mellwood Avenue, but necessary renovations there have forced the company into a sabbatical of sorts, making The Rocky Horror Show perhaps their only production for the 2023-24 season. In truth, this is not a strictly new production but a perennial in its 10th year, but it is my first time in this audience and I found the confident freedom in the adaptation bracing and welcome in the autumn chill. This Rocky Horror is more like a rock concert, a heady experience in which Glam Rock meets Bob Fosse.

It is, quite simply, a blast.

Featuring Sara Bell, Michael Detmer, Ashley Drury, Olivia Duff, Hannah Lechleiter, William Nickles, May O’Nays, Peighton Radlein, Veronica Riggs, Remy Sisk, Myranda Thomas, Celeste Vonderschmidt, & Katie Willis.

The Rocky Horror Show

October 20 – 31  @ 8:00 pm

TimeSlip Theatre
Play Dance Club
1101 E. Washington Street 
Louisville, KY 40206

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of Artists Talk with LVA on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.