Until recently, audiences came to expect a cheap thrill at Fort Lauderdale’s Rising Action Theatre. Playing to a predominantly gay audience, the company often resorted to gratuitous male nudity to sell tickets to critically panned productions.
Producing Artistic Director Andy Rogow is determined to transform the company. The former artistic director of the Hollywood Playhouse, Rogow took over the company at the beginning of the season and immediately went to work.
For the first production under his leadership, Douglas Carter Beane’s “As Bees in Honey Drown,” Rogow recruited Carbonell Award-winner Avi Hoffman to direct, along with a cast of Equity actors.
“I had not seen many shows there,” Rogow recalls, “but I knew the reputation was inconsistent. But, I also knew they were getting audiences, so there was potential.”
Critics and audiences immediately took notice of the changes at Rising Action with his initial production generating some of the company’s most positive reviews and buzz spreading throughout the Broward theater community.
This past weekend, the company opened the second show of the season, Stephen Dolginoff’s Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story, a musical about a pair of young men who killed a boy in 1924 for seemingly no reason, other than the thrill.
“This isn’t the sort of stuff our audiences are used to seeing,” Rogow warns of the two-man show. He likens the score to the dark harmonies of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, or even Billy Wildhorn’s Broadway hit, Jekyll & Hyde.
But gay audiences will find the story interesting, he adds. While historical accounts never verified if the killers were gay, Dolginoff started with the newspaper headlines and surmised the gay passions that might have led them to commit such a heinous murder.
“It’s really a story of obsession—with crime and with each other,” says Rogow. “There’s a surprising twist at the end and it’s all very plausible.”
When he’s not directing, Rogow still has his hands full. Rising Action’s finances and organization are still weak and he must find a new home for the company at the end of this run as the Sunshine Cathedral, the company’s home for the last year, reclaims use of its fellowship hall.
Rogow is looking at warehouse spaces in Fort Lauderdale and has even approached the city of Wilton Manors about use of a city facility in the hopes of bringing Rising Action closer to its regulars.
He insists, “Things are going in the right direction. The quality of the productions is better and we’re attracting talent that is serious and professional. Hopefully soon we’ll find a new home where we can continue to grow.”
For a seasoned theater professional like Rogow, that will be the biggest thrill of all.
“Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story”
Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.
through Nov. 20
Rising Action Theatre
Sunshine Cathedral, 1480 SW 9th Ave., Fort Lauderdale
Tickets $35 at RisingActionTheatre.com