Don't dream it: Be it. 

Mention the name “Rocky” to most Americans of a certain age, and they’ll instantly flash on an image of Sly Stallone pounding meat in a walk-in cooler or kissing a butt-ugly dog.

However, there are an equal – if not greater number – of pop culture enthusiasts for whom that name inspires a strikingly different mental image.

That of a tall, well-toned blonde stud with a goofy grin who’s wearing nothing but a pair of tight, gold lamé underwear.

Oh, he may also be surrounded by a rail-thin, balding, malevolent butler with a dirty set of tails and spats, a bewitchingly androgynous transvestite scientist with a penchant for pearl chokers and pink Playtex gloves, and – alternately – a buxom-but-ghoulish french maid with a flaming red mane, or a brazen and perky tap-dancer with a Sally Bowles haircut and a ballsy attitude.

If none of these characters ring a bell, it’s a cinch you’ve not familiar with the world of Rocky Horror.

While that may be hard for many folks under the age of forty to imagine, there are certainly a great many individuals who have (for whatever reason) never stumbled across this peculiar subculture of Western stage and cinema. If you’re not a Rocky virgin, then feel free to skip ahead to the meat of this piece – namely the interview.

But, if you have absolutely no idea what I’m on about, then read on for an overview of the RHPS phenomenon:

Originally titled The Rock Horroar Show (sic), this voyeuristic and taboo-breaking British rock opera premiered in June of 1973 at the sixty-seat Theatre Upstairs in Chelsea’s Slone Square, but within an extremely short time proved to be such a hit that it was relocated to a five-hundred seat capacity theatre on King’s Road (where it subsequently became one of the most talked-about hits of the theatrical season).

Written by London actor Richard “Ritz” O’Brien, the experimental musical found the B-movie buff putting his encyclopedic knowledge of American sci-fi and horror films to good use. The plot concerns a prototypical American couple, Brad and Janet Majors, whose car breaks down one rainy night, and are offered shelter in a creepy castle.

Unbeknownst to them, they have arrived just as the castle’s “owner”, the transvestite Dr. Frank-N-Furter is about to bring his hunky blonde surfer boy-creation to life in front of an invited group of freakish party guests.

Things progress at a steady clip from there, with murder, cannibalism and incest all making brief but crucial appearances in the play.

Soon, the straight-laced couple find themselves placed in “compromising situations,” which force them to drastically reconsider their own sexuality, morals, and general attitudes toward life... itself.

Oh, did I happen to mention that virtually everyone at the party is an alien?

Within a short time, The Rocky Horror Show’s campy take on gender-bending and pop-culture was the toast of swinging London, and a parade of celebrities lined up at sold-out performances to see what the fuss was all about. American record label magnate Lou Adler (who produced The Monterey Pop Festival) bought the rights to the stage show and brought it – and its breakout stars Tim Curry, Meatloaf, and creator O’Brien – to Los Angeles for a successful cabaret-style run at his Roxy Theater, and before long a deal was in place to turn the play (with his backing) into a full-fledged motion picture.

The cinematic version, redubbed The Rocky Horror Picture Show, was released in 1975, but its backers were in for a rude awakening. It turns out the American public at large didn’t know anywhere near enough about 1950’s sci-fi flicks to catch the inside jokes and sight gags which peppered the film. Furthermore – with all apologies to Adler’s Hollywood friends and neighbors – the U.S. of A. was not swinging London, and despite the growing popularity of David Bowie on the Billboard charts, seemed completely incapable of grasping the obvious connection between cross-dressing, bisexuality, rock and roll music and extra-terrestrials.

To say it was a flop would be polite. However, a strange thing happened. One New York theater owner who had booked the film noticed that while hardly anyone was coming to see it, many of the same people were returning night after night to watch it over and over again. And they brought their friends.

Soon, the tiny – but fanatical – crowds were familiar enough with the film, and emboldened enough by the nearly empty theater to start shouting insults at the characters onscreen. Before long, the more creative among them were crafting new dialogue to add to the existing script – shouting these sarcastic comments in between the actors’ own lines for maximum effect.

Then came the costumes, and the props, and within another year, groups of the faithful were getting up in front of the screen while the film was being projected to re-enact the story as it was unfolding – essentially becoming one with the movie.

Once word of this behavior spread, it became something of a rite of passage for the disenfranchised, or disillusioned, or dramatically-minded, or merely apprehensive and confused. It wasn’t long before theatres across the country (and later the world) began to rent scratchy, beat-up prints of this commercial dud specifically to screen at midnight on the weekends, tacitly promoting this sort of behavior and reaping the financial rewards of a bonafide cult sensation.

Unfortunately for Richard O’Brien, his contract with Adler was rather onerous, and while “his” film slowly began to rake in millions of dollars through ticket sales, soundtrack albums and merchandise, he saw quite little of this unexpected profit.

“I should be rich,” he groused once to a television interviewer who made the mistake of asking for his take on the film.

However, his creation lives on through revivals of his original stage play (including a successful run on Broadway a few years back). And, while many of Rocky’s most fervent fans – the most faithful of whom count the number of times they’ve seen the film in the hundreds – have never actually witnessed a straight-up live production of the original show, they may be at how well it functions as rather intimate cabaret.

SCAD’s production of the updated Broadway version features a cast of eighteen and is being directed by Jeff DeVincent, a Professor of Media and Performing Arts at the school (he also selected the show). While he’s never been involved in staging it before, he’s seen both the Broadway run and several smaller companies’ efforts, and says he’s watched the film “at least 50 times!”

He says the updated version has “more of a rock and roll edge than the original play, with some amazing backup vocals.” That aspect of the play is being handled by Musical Director Kelly Blackmarr, who is overseeing not only the actors (all of whom had to pass singing auditions as well) but a full live rock band which will accompany them.

DeVincent says despite the show’s reputation for racy humor and controversial subject matter, he feels that not only does it make an excellent choice for the students, but that the core message of the work is specifically appropriate for an art college to embrace.

“The messages of acceptance, forgiveness and freedom via high quality art always supersede any form of taboo! High caliber work is simply high caliber work!”

He also says the students are thrilled to sink their teeth into this famous show.

Bobby Kean agrees wholeheartedly. The Senior from Boulder, Colorado, plays the lead role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter.

“I think that this musical is in no way dated or out of touch,” he explains. “Its

ability to shock and amuse the audience is still very much alive. I think that in the last three decades since the show’s release people have become more accepting of alternative lifestyles in theory but not in practice – meaning that many will still be shocked by the blatant sexuality of the piece. However, the message of the show will hopefully come across too: ‘Don’t dream it; Be it!’”

Kean says the tension surrounding the opening is palpable for everyone.

“I have been involved in quite a few other SCAD productions, but I have never been this excited,” he admits.

He says that’s at least partly because of what Rocky represents to so many.

“I think the impact this show has had on people’s lives is very large. Knowing that so many people will come with such high hopes really makes me want to give the best performance of my lifetime.”

Sasha Travis, a junior from Texas who nabbed the plum role of Janet, says it’s hard for her not to get caught up in the play even as it’s happening.

“This show makes me cry. I have a very difficult time near the end not breaking into a teary mess. I hate crying on stage, so it’s rough,” she says.

“The play is so heartbreaking, it begins as a piece about acceptance and about expanding one’s mind, but that changes... through the deaths of so many precious characters. It’s a heart-wrenching play. But people don’t come to see it for those reasons. People want to see the wild characters that everyone has inside of them. I think a lot of people wish they could live like Dr. Frank and the others, but in reality that never really works. For an evening of song and dance, though, it’s fun to pretend.”

The Rocky Horror Show takes place at 8 pm, Aug. 12-13, 19-20, Sept. 16-17, and 23-24 at The Mondonaro Theater (217 MLK, Jr. Blvd., inside Crites Hall. Tickets are $10 for the public and $5 for Senior Citizens. Admission free with SCAD ID for faculty, students and staff. Intended for those 17 years or older. Audience participation encouraged, but no objects can be thrown at the stage, and no open flames will be allowed for safety reasons.


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Jim Reed

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