This is not your “South Pacific” or your “My Fair Lady” – this is a rock concert. A rock concert rife with tight gold speedos, legs for days tangled in fishnet stockings and belted-out songs about sex. “The Rocky Horror Show” is not so much a piece of classical theater as a rock musical.
“Come to the performance expecting to have your ears ringing when you leave,” said Benton Whitley, the show’s director and a senior in the School of Music, Theater & Dance. “This isn’t for the 70-year-olds, our grandparents. This is ‘Rocky Horror.’ “
The production will debut at the Power Center tomorrow at 8 p.m. and continue Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. The show is produced by MUSKET, a student-run theater group that produces musicals every semester.
Those familiar with “Rocky Horror” culture will know there’s a fine line between fascination and obsession. The production began as a musical written for the stage, Whitley pointed out, but its cult following was fueled by the film of vaguely the same title (1975’s “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”). The film featured young, sultry versions of Tim Curry and Susan Sarandon as well as a garbled, sex-riddled plot centered on aliens, transvestites and sexual awakening. The play itself is about the de-virginizing of Brad and Janet, a na’ve young couple who stumble into the dark lair of Dr. Frank-n-furter, a stiletto-wearing mad scientist from Transvestite, Transylvania.
The musical itself has fueled a fishnet-wearing culture that flocks to midnight showings of the film, creating with it a unique audience-film interaction.
“Something that you can’t avoid when you’re doing ‘Rocky Horror’ is the cult followers who stand in the audience and scream at the screen. They yell back ‘slut’ and ‘asshole’; they throw rice, throw toast and squirt water guns,” Whitley said. “You have to acknowledge this interaction, because that’s part of the magic and beauty of ‘Rocky Horror.’ “
MUSKET’s production pays homage to the musical’s cult following and film-related roots by having the first musical number pre-filmed and played on an actual screen in the Power Center, re-creating a cinema on stage. Members of the ensemble (called “Phantoms”) first appear dressed up as members of the audience watching the film.
“The main characters are on the movie screen, and they walk off of it. It goes from movie to live stage,” Whitley said. “The Phantoms become part of the story themselves, too. They go from being a viewer to being an active participant in the story.”
In the spirit of the rock-and-glamour style of “The Rocky Horror Show,” the stage is engineered to look like the setting for a rock show. It boasts concert-like ambiance, complete with bare scaffolding, exposed microphones and speakers, low-hanging lights and a live rock band.
Added musical elements enhance the rock-show feel – the actors sing deep and heartily, reminiscent of old-era rock’n’roll crooners. The choreography seems in no way sugary or sweet, but rather edgy and sexy. The garb, in the spirit of “Rocky Horror,” is all camp and glitter, something Keith Richards would wear on a burlesque night.
Although the production stays close to its old-school “Rocky Horror” feel, MUSKET’s production plays around with the traditional formula. It’s set in the 1950s (as opposed to the 1970s), giving the music a more doo-wop vibe; the narrator is, according to Whitley, no longer an Alfred Hitchcock-style historian, but a “1950’s desperate housewife – think Stepford wives.” There are also musical numbers in Musket’s stage production not originally included in the film release.
“If there are five flavors in the movie, we want to give them a sixth or a seventh,” said Erica Ruff, the show’s producer and an LSA senior. “I think that the ‘Rocky Horror’ culture would like to embrace this different take.”
The atypical themes in the “Rocky Horror Show” incorporate MUSKET’s attempt to connect theater with the masses.
“For the last four years, Musket has become a contemporary, edgy musical theater outlet for this community. We’ve done ‘Urinetown,’ we’ve done ‘Assassins,’ we’ve done ‘Pippin’ in a very different way, and next semester we’re doing ‘The Full Monty’ with full nudity,” Ruff said.
“I think that Musket takes every opportunity it can to reach out and show the masses that musical theater can be something exciting,” Whitley added. “In how many productions do we hear ‘slut,’ see naked people, have a real rock band on stage and see guys in heels and fishnets?”