Before the umbrellas and the flying toast, before the fan rituals and midnight screenings, before “picture” elbowed its way into the title, “Rocky Horror” was simply a show.
“It started as a musical,” said William Whitaker, professor of the practice in drama in the Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences, who will direct “The Rocky Horror Show” Oct. 19-28 at Washington University in St. Louis’ Edison Theatre.
“And in the 1970s, for a young person who might be questioning their gender or sexual identity, a show like ‘Rocky Horror’ was a welcoming place,” Whitaker said. “It was a place to feel at home, to be who you really are, where nobody was going to judge you. It was playful and fun and over-the-top.
“And it was kind of dangerous.”
‘A clarion call’
Written by the British-born actor Richard O’Brien, “The Rocky Horror Show” debuted June 19, 1973, at London’s storied Royal Court Theatre. Tim Curry originated the role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the fishnet-clad scientist who attempts to build the perfect, sun-kissed monster — a role Curry reprised for the film adaptation two years later.
Whitaker, like many people, first encountered “Rocky Horror” at the movies. “It was weird and wonderful and amazingly liberating — but I didn’t know what in the world was going on,” Whitaker recalled with a laugh. “Aliens? Spaceship? Eddie’s brain? In the play, the story is simpler, clearer and easier to follow.”
Ironically, screenings of the film quickly grew famous (or infamous) for their raucous yet highly choreographed audience participation — an eventuality for which Whitaker has tried to prepare the cast. “During rehearsals, I’ve had crew members yelling some of the call outs, so that the actors know how to deal with them,” he said. “But it’s definitely an X-factor.”
Whitaker also points out that, in the years since “Rocky Horror” debuted, public conversations around gender identity have undergone a seismic shift. “Words like ‘transvestite’ and ‘transsexual’ get thrown around less thoughtfully than we’d do today,” he said. “Some of the humor can seem quaint or dated.
“But I think ‘Rocky Horror’ remains a cultural touchstone and, for all its camp hyperbole, an experience to be shared.
“It’s a clarion call to be yourself.”
Cast & Crew
The cast of 18 stars Brandon Krisko as Frank, and Sarah James and Nathan Wetter as Janet and Brad, the heroine and hero who stumble upon his castle. (The structure bears a striking resemblance to Brookings Hall.) Kelley Abell and Madelyne Quiroz are Riff-Raff and Magenta, Frank’s handyman and domestic.
Sabrina Odigie is the Usherette. Eudora Anyagfu is Narrator. Emma Thorp is the groupie Columbia. Cameron Bryant is the ex-delivery boy Eddie. Stephen Reaugh is Frank’s rival, Dr. Scott. Max Shteiman is Frank’s creation, Rocky Horror.
Rounding out the cast, as phantoms, are Katherine Dawson, Alisha Duvall, Catherine Herlihy, Nathaniel Holmes, Sofia McGrath, Gracie Parker and Peter Woods.
Sets and costumes are by Stephanie Nelson Pondrom and Nikki Glaros. Lighting, sound and projections are by Benjamin Gaffney, Casey Hunter and Sean Savoie. Nathan Lamp is dramaturg and assistant director. Music director is Henry Palkes. Choreography is by Christine Knoblauch-O’Neal. Stage manager is Josh Sarris.
“The Rocky Horror Show” begins at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 19 and 20; and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21. Performances continue the following weekend, at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 26 and 27; and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28.
Performances take place in Edison Theatre, located in Mallinckrodt Center, 6465 Forsyth Blvd. Tickets are $20, or $15 for students, seniors and Washington University faculty and staff, and free for WashU students. Tickets are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office.
In addition, prop bags will be available for $3 each to the first 100 patrons at each performance. For more information, call 314-935-6543.