Rust Belt Theater Company premieres ‘Rockin’ Horribles’

By Eric McCrea

Coincidence or not, The Rust Belt Theater Company premiered its latest original show “The Rockin’ Horribles Audience Participation Show” on Friday night to an ample audience. The dynamic team of Robert Dennick Joki and Josh Taylor, responsible for many of the Rust Belt’s repertoire, has done it again.

Millennial virgins Chad (Jude Mikulich) and Becky (Angelisa Beltran) wreck their car while driving home from a wedding. Seeking shelter from the rain, they turn to a creepy house, inhabited by a cadre of definitely-not-aliens who seemingly take orders from deviant experimenter Dr. Hauten Daugen, played by Wesley Miller.

Chad and Becky get caught in the household chaos caused by Daugen’s experiments Roxy (Rachel Clifford) and Betty (Ryan Musgrove) and that biannual government-imposed time warp benignly known as Daylight Savings Time, leading to some eye-opening experiments of their own. Audience participation is encouraged and guided throughout the show.

Joki and Taylor used their first-hand knowledge of “The Rocky Horror Show” to create a scene-by-scene update of the taboo humor famously found in the cult classic. Fresh original songs echoed the sentiment of the originals, and Joki’s personal experience at the helm proved invaluable when restructuring the convoluted plot-twists that seem to come out of nowhere.

Miller delivered a formidable and altruistic take on the nonbinary hero. A towering sight in heels, he had a strong presence, with a soft and sincere persona.

The character of Dr. Evita Charmin felt extra familiar in the hands of Geri DeWitt, who previously played Dr. Scott alongside Joki. She gave the audience a softer, more luxurious look while holding on to the disruptive nature of the part.

The demented butler Jib Jab, played by Rust Belt pillar Kage Coven, had a fun and maniacal revamping. Though the role still lacks much solo singing, Coven was invaluable in group numbers, pushing harmonies and adding fullness to the vocals.

Celena Coven played Fuchsia, fellow servant and sibling to Jib Jab. Celena Coven has shown to be reliably entertaining and energetic. She commits to the camp with reckless abandon, and that came in handy during the diabolical revelations at the end of the show.

The starkest change was probably the gender switch on the former title role, elegantly played by Clifford, which subtly challenged the prevalence of objectification in our society. But don’t worry, this show isn’t that serious, and Clifford was hilarious as the deer.

Beltran and Mikulich were adorable together. Though the characters started off with the expected naivet , the modern takes on their situations and snarky remarks made them far less boring.

Vocally, some of the cast weren’t as powerful with their solos, which are a major aspect of this show. There were a few opening-night stumbles with dialogue, and at times, the audience participation bags were a distraction.

“Rocky Horror” is also known for its audience callbacks, which stem from over-familiarity with the lines. The same can’t be said for “Rockin’ Horribles” yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if happens in a few years.

“The Rockin’ Horribles Audience Participation Show” can be seen Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through March 31. For reservations, call or text The Rust Belt Theater Company at 330-507-2358.

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