‘Rocky Horror Show’ is alive and well in Stray Dog Theatre’s hands

Mike Wells, of Belleville, center, is both Dr. Scott and Eddie in "The Rocky Horror Show" shown here with the Phantoms, including Dawn Schmid of Columbia, now at Stray Dog Theatre.
Mike Wells, of Belleville, center, is both Dr. Scott and Eddie in "The Rocky Horror Show" shown here with the Phantoms, including Dawn Schmid of Columbia, now at Stray Dog Theatre.

The allure of “The Rocky Horror Show” is very much alive in Stray Dog Theatre’s vivacious staging of the cult classic.

A spicy blend of Halloween party, drag show and midnight movie madness, the musical is a pop culture rite of passage. No matter if it’s your first time or umpteenth viewing, the experience is a singular sensation that people never forget.

The audience participation — whether shouting out and singing along with the stage version or pulling out the specific props at a movie theater — is a major component to its enduring appeal.

Dressing up in costume is encouraged, and House Rules are outlined on the back of the program to enhance enjoyment and set necessary boundaries (like don’t block the aisles or jump up on stage or light a match — this isn’t the Varsity Theatre, circa 1977).

With a raucous crowd ready for the campy, kitschy experience, the exuberant ensemble ripped into the bawdy material with glee.

Laughs were plentiful, particularly when suggestive, raunchy one-liners were tossed out — whether playing it straight like the droll Gerry Love as The Narrator or flirty like Michael Juncal as Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter.

The saucy, sexy Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter may not have been the first musical star to let his freak flag fly, but he might be the most memorable. He bursts with tricks and treats.

In this homage to the horror and science fiction movies he watched as a youth, composer/lyricist/book writer Richard O’Brien created the “Sweet Transvestite from Transexual Transylvania” as a lusty cross-dresser who favors outrageous outfits and basks in wicked deeds.

Juncal, among the Stray Dog regulars in the cast, doesn’t look like Tim Curry, forever associated with the role, but he proves he can own the part, too. He nailed the swagger and added zip to the flamboyant lines associated with our mad scientist, roaring and purring with primal ferocity.

His vocal prowess comes through on the memorable song introduction and “I’m Going Home,” and he has fun with ‘Janet Schmanet” and “Charles Atlas.”

A tanned, blonde and muscular Luke Steingruby is a playful boy-toy as the lab creation Rocky. He not only looks the part but shows off his impressive vocal range in “The Sword of Damocles.”

Heather Matthews, as the good girl Janet, can belt with the best of them, too, and has some shining moments, “Touch-A Touch Me” included.

She and versatile Kevin O’Brien, as dull preppy Brad, have strong duets, and sprightly spoof the archetypal All-American young couple in “Damn It, Janet” and “Over at the Frankenstein Place.”

With a glint in his eye, Corey Fraine captures the creepy duality of mysterious Riff Raff — growling and smirking as an obedient man-servant with ulterior motives.

Both Maria Bartolotta as sassy Magenta and Sara Rae Womack as perky Columbia offer spirited renditions of the doctor’s sidekicks.

Along with Riff Raff, they lead the frisky Phantoms with the peppy signature “The Time Warp.” Choreographer Zachary Stefaniak Shaffner has enlivened this and other numbers with zesty moves.

Mike Wells, of Belleville, in dual roles, sings “Hot Patootie” with gusto as doomed Eddie and switches gears as Dr. Scott, using an authoritative German accent in “Eddie’s Teddy.”

The focus of the six energetic Phantoms — Dawn Schmid, of Columbia, Tim Kaniecki, Sara Polizzi, Angela Bubash, Stephen Hensley and Ted Drury — is to entertain with enticement.

Under Chris Petersen’s smooth music direction, the 4-man band, placed on stage, swiftly keeps the beat moving and duplicates the sentimental sounds of ’50s rebel teen rock ‘n’ roll. He’s on piano, AJ Lane is on guitar, Bob McMahon, drums; and M. Joshua Ryan, bass.

Costume designer Eileen Engel expertly has selected attire that conveys the show’s inspired tackiness and tawdriness.

Working with the limitations of a small space, scenic designer Rob Lippert, of O’Fallon, has done wonders, deftly using height to his advantage. Inspired by B-movie sets and art deco, the castle’s interior has two staircases, a laboratory and much atmosphere. Lighting designer Tyler Duenow adds effective illumination.

Director Justin Been ensured the cast cavorted with feisty attitudes, delivering on his promise of fresh and fun. Through screen projection of old-timey B-movie clips and a nostalgic intermission jingle, he enhanced audience enjoyment.

While the first act was a breezy romp, the second act, by virtue of its construction, dragged a bit after the company’s “Floorshow.” But the cast cavorted with total commitment from start to curtain call.

The biggest laughs happened right after intermission, as Been imaginatively staged the seduction escapades and the principals kicked up the nasty.

The show has adult themes and is for mature audiences only. Due to the show’s popularity, this weekend is sold out, but there is a waiting list. Next week’s shows still have remaining seats, so reserve as soon as possible.

A RHS encore is always welcome, and its history is quite a success story. Its shelf life was extended far beyond its initial London stage run in 1973, with engagements in Los Angeles and Broadway, and after the iconic 1975 movie gained popularity, became a late-night staple.

In St. Louis, the movie was a weekend fixture for 12 years at the old Varsity Theatre in the Delmar Loop, which is where Vintage Vinyl is now.

SDT has stamped the work with its own flourishes and fervor to re-invigorate a 43-year-old curiosity that never gathers dust in the showbiz lair. They furnish the fun — it’s your turn to dive in.

The Rocky Horror Show

When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through Oct. 29; special Oct. 26 performance and matinee Oct. 29

Who: Stray Dog Theatre

Where: Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave., St. Louis, 63104

Information: www.straydogtheatre.org or 314-865-1995