Wilmington never wanes when it comes to local theatre. In the thrust of the All Hallow’s Eve season, City Stage Company will be bringing back all of our favorite minions in “The Rocky Horror Show” at City Stage, which opens Oct. 15. A few blocks up the street, Thalian Hall executive Tony Rivenbark and a gang of theatre stalwarts will be putting on the award-winning (Tony and Oscar, mind you) “On Golden Pond,” in the black box theater at Thalian Hall. Here’s a closer look at both shows and how fantasy and realism take center stage to illuminate the human experience.
THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW
Oct. 15-18, 23-25, 30- Nov. 1, 8 p.m.
City Stage@Level 5
21 N Front St. #501
Artistic director Nick Gray will lead the helm of “The Rocky Horror Show,” directing all the ball-busting insanity that has turned the show into a cult classic. It’s become a City Stage favorite throughout the years. In fact, it’s shown five times on the Masonic Temple Building stage. It was the first show Gray ever saw, which undeniably turned him into a theatrical fanatic.
“I also developed a pretty random obsession with Susan Sarandon in my early years, in the fourth grade,” he says of the original Janet from the film version “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” which is seeing its 40-year anniversary in 2015. “I even told my classmates that she was my mother.”
Gray and former company codirector Rachael Sutton took over the City Stage reins last Halloween and debuted “Carrie: The Musical.” While they focused on premiering new works to Wilmingtonians in 2014, for 2015 Gray is acting as sole artistic director, with the help of new managing director Chandler Davis. He chose “Rocky Horror” to open the second season, and according to the director, there will “be a different spin on the expected.”
“Essentially, I decided to bring the show to a Bacchian frat party,” Gray says. “So, yes, there will be togas, there will be red Solo cups, there will be ping-pong balls, there will be beer! It’s mostly an aesthetic shift, as I certainly didn’t want to mess with the flow of the story in any way.”
The story follows young budding lovers Brad and Janet, who get a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. They walk to a nearby castle to use the phone and instead fall into a world of oddities and sexual fantasy. Led by a transvestite scientist, Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter, who’s invented his very own love slave, Rocky, the couple meet a house of wild characters, all servants and minions to their leader Frank ‘n’ Furter—until something goes awry and power shifts.
Gray has cast Raleigh resident Jesse Gephart as Frank ‘N’ Furter, who has a voice that soars. “His presence has to be seen to be believed,” Gray praises.
Sutton will take on the iconic Janet, with pinpointed comedic timing and nuanced character quirks. Caitlin Becka will reprise her role as Magenta for the third time on a Wilmington stage.
“She has impressed me so much in her willingness to join our vision and do something completely different than she’s ever done before,” Gray notes.
Alissa Fetherolf will play Columbia, whom Fetherolf says is getting a bit of an update thanks to choreographer Kendra Goehring-Garrett. Goehring-Garrett has modernized the translation of the show.
“She has given Columbia and the entire show a new physical style,” Fetherolf says. “Her choreography has inspired Columbia’s transition from goody-too-shoes into fun-loving party girl.”
Fetherolf has been hands-on with her character, to say the least. She notes Columbia’s tactility and willingness to invade personal space part of her allure. “We are always taught to keep our hands to ourselves,” she explains, “but as I am exploring this character, I am finding that sharing a physical connection with someone can immediately create a psychological bond.”
Brad Mercier will play Riff Raff. And the youngest cast member, Mathis Turner, will play Frank ‘N’ Furter’s creation, Rocky. “I don’t know that I’ve ever worked with anyone as young who has all the right instincts,” Gray compliments.
The music will be led by Judson Hurd, who will play piano, and his backing band: Chuck Agresta (bass), Jeremy Parker (drums) and Austin Glover (sax). While many of the songs will delight in their rock ‘n’ roll foundations, popped by massive sex appeal, others will get an uplift.
“Before we began, some songs weren’t really on my radar,” Gray says. “‘Eddie’s Teddy’ is one of those: We’ve turned the number into a ‘Cups’ performance that I think will excite our audience.”
Dottie Davis has joined the team as costume designer). She’ll dress the characters in everything from togas to ‘Varsity Blues’-inspired whipped cream bikinis. She also has fancied a dress framed out of LED lights.
“We have outsourced our lighting designer Brock Childers from Hickory to light this party up and Thomas Mauney from Raleigh, an expert fabric draper, that is giving us gorgeous Grecian realness on our set,” Gray explains.
Set builder Chris Keenan is a recent transplant from L.A. who will debut his work at City Stage. He showed up with three stripper poles.
“All I ever want as artistic director of City Stage Co. is to entertain our community, and that has been and will be my only goal up until every opening night,” Gray exclaims.
ON GOLDEN POND
Oct. 15 – 17, 22-24, and 26 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 18 and 25, 2 p.m.
Ruth and Bucky Stein Theatre
Family takes center stage at the Ruth and Bucky Stein Theater in Thalian Hall on Thursday night. The 1979 play “On Golden Pond,” written by Ernest Thompson, focuses on a married couple in their twilight years. Ethel and Norman Thayer visit their vacation home on Golden Pond each summer. During this particular vacation, their daughter, Chelsea, brings her new beau and his son to meet her parents. It’s a bit of a strain for Chelsea and her father, who have a turbulent bond.
Playing Ethel will be Suellen Yates, whose onstage husband, Norman, will be brought to life by Tony Rivenbark, Thalian Hall’s executive director. Rivenbark and Yates’ chemistry goes back 30 years or more, as they’ve shared the stage locally in numerous productions.
“Tony and I started performing together in the early 1980s under the direction of Doug Swink at UNCW,” Yates says. Rivenbark was the Napolean to Yates’ Josephine (“Man of Destiny”) and his Ellyot to her Amanda (“Private Lives”).
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” Judy Greenhut, who’s directing the show, says of the lead roles. Greenhut also cast George Domby, Rachel Lewis Hilburn, Donald Bland, and Aiden Malone to fill out the show’s supporting cast. “What fun [it has been] to go to rehearsal and watch the intelligence, work ethic and experience play out!” she excites.
Double entendres, sarcastic wit, physical comedy, and heart-rending truth all come to the forefront of the play. Perhaps one of the most noteworthy praises the production (and movie, starring Katherine Hepburn, Peter Fonda, Jane Fonda, and Dabney Coleman) receives comes from the fleshed-out characters who all feel very real.
“I am surprised at how the play is very relevant in today’s world even though it was first produced in the early 1980s,” Yates says.” It deals with establishing and balancing relationships with adult children, making peace with an imperfect past, and finally the changing roles and capabilities of the couple as they age.”
Health woes also make up a great part of the play. Norman is undergoing a form of dementia or memory loss, and is visibly nearing his end of days.
“[Also,] the worse aspects of his character are more amplified by his declining mental state,” Rivenbark details of his character. “The results are often funny but certainly not politically correct. The play speaks to the one essential aspect that a person has shelf life. Life is fleeting and it ends. Our job is to speak the words of the playwright.”
Greenhut calls the show “director proof.” Thompson’s poignant writing balloons with the right cast. It’s almost impossible to mess it up, according to the director.
“Everyone can find a character or relationship with which to identify, and that is what makes it so fascinating to me,” Greenhut adds. “It is timeless and all the themes are as relevant today as they were when this play was written: mortality, marriage, inter generational communication, family dynamics, hurt, resentment, all presented with humor.”
With the Ruth and Bucky Stein Theatre being so intimate, Greenhut predicts the audience will feel like part of the Thayer family scene by scene. Of course, this also means there are limitations to set design. Though the pond is referred to throughout the show’s entirety, it’s never seen. All the action takes place in the Thayer’s living room.
“Our hope is that the audience will identify with the characters and their situations and feel like they are looking in the window of the Thayer’s summer cottage on Golden Pond, and will find themselves saying, ‘That is so true,’” Yates tells.
“It’s funny and sad,” Rivenbark notes. “It’s touching and comic, and I think it will be interesting to perform it in such an intimate space. It is truly in-your-face theatre!”