Each October, the Woodlawn Theatre becomes home to RuPaul’s Drag Race stars as they participate in its annual production of The Rocky Horror Show. After 2012’s successful steampunk staging and last year’s S&M theme, the theater’s artistic director, Greg Hinojosa, has set the musical in a circus milieu this time around — and the results are terrific. The carny atmosphere, with its colorful lights, garish make-up and general seediness, provides the perfect backdrop for the story of Frank N. Furter.
Having played Magenta last year, Drag Race judge Michelle Visage returns to the Woodlawn stage, this time doing some gender-bending in her portrayal of Riff Raff, cast alongside Season Six winner Bianca Del Rio as sinister sibling Magenta. Season Six runner-up Courtney Act joins the production for the first time this year as Frank, and it’s more than just stunt casting. Both Act and Visage possess fine singing voices, and Act makes the most of the iconic role. Del Rio also captures the essence of the perverse Magenta while delivering the kind of campy comedy the audience expects to see.
Some Woodlawn vets are also returning in different roles this time around. Melissa Zarb-Cousin, who portrayed Janet for the past three years, is stepping into Columbia’s shoes. Sean Hagdorn, who played Riff Raff and Brad in the past, takes on the role of Eddie. Another former Riff Raff, Matthew Lieber, squeezes into the gold lamé shorts this time to play Rocky. They all know their way around this show and therefore provide solid support.
Kurt Wehner and Carla Sankey capably handle the roles of squeaky-clean Brad and Janet, while Dave Cortez hams it up as the wheelchair-bound Dr. Scott. David Blazer is also fun as The Narrator, transformed into a carny barker in this new staging.
Speaking of staging, Wehner and Benjamin Grabill’s set looks great, evoking the feel of a small-town traveling carnival with a sinister edge. Hinojosa has designed an array of appropriately flamboyant costumes for the large cast, and everything sparkles under Chris Muenchow’s fine lighting. The performers are nicely choreographed by Sankey, and the aerial acrobats contribute to the atmospherics.
It’s always great to hear live music in a production such as this, and Hector Serna’s six-piece band provides solid backup for the singing. Alas, the singing was not always audible, as there were some opening night sound glitches which will hopefully be mended in future performances.
As a newbie to the Woodlawn Rocky Horror experience, I was impressed by this production, and I plan to make it a regular part of my Halloween season entertainment.
The Rocky Horror Show plays Thursdays at 8 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays at 11 p.m. at the Woodlawn Theatre, 1920 Fredricksburg Road, San Antonio 78201. Tickets can be acquired online or by calling the box office at (210) 267-8388.