Four years after the launch of the modern gay rights movement, Richard O’Brien’s “The Rocky Horror Show” premiered in a small London theater in 1973.
Inspired by the glam rock of David Bowie and T. Rex and all their gender-nonconforming moxie, O’Brien wrote the story he wanted to read: a campy musical that spoofed old monster and sci-fi movies, with the mad scientist at its center intent upon expanding the sexual horizons of the young, clean-cut couple that has stumbled upon his castle on a stormy night. It can be read as a love letter to old B-movies, a glorification of (or warning about) experimentation or even as a satire on the political degeneracy of America.
Opening Halloween night, director Deborah Sparks mounts an artistic and stylized production of the cult sci-fi musical at Orcas Center. With an imaginative set design by Sparks and Chris Brems, the show kicks off the 2019-2020 season with a dose of lightheartedness: a couple hours of ridiculous fun. Jake Perrine is the technical director and Grace McCune is the musical director.
“The Rocky Horror Show” runs every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from Oct. 31 – Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. with an additional late-night show on both Saturdays at 10 p.m. The earlier show is rated PG-13 while the late-night offering is rated R. Tickets range in price from $15 – $47 on www.orcascenter.org. There will be a preview performance by the cast on Thursday, Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. in The Barnacle as part of the monthly pride night event.
Sparks has been a pillar in the theatre arts community on Orcas Island for decades. She has written, directed, produced and/or starred in more than 100 shows. She worked on staff at Orcas Center for 17 years.
“This is about having a night off, where it’s simply a no-brainer. You’re coming in to have some fun. You’re going to get some props to throw around and just suspend your disbelief. Be here now,” Sparks shared. “[The show] has become very tame in my thinking. I’m hoping people still have a sense of humor about sexuality. At the time, Rocky was very much a political statement on the gay and LGBT+ movement. Now, it’s no longer breakthrough stuff.”
For 45 years, “The Rocky Horror Show” has given audiences all over the world a reason to drag up, shout out the best lines and pelt the stage or screen with bread when Dr. Frank N. Furter calls for “a toast!” And it’s Frank — dangerously charismatic, thoroughly narcissistic and joyously pansexual — who gives the show its beating heart.
“I grew up as a very shy kid and when I saw ‘Rocky Horror’ … it was the most outrageous thing I had ever seen!” said Jake Perrine, who is playing Frank N. Furter. “And when Frank sang ‘Don’t dream it, be it,’ I felt like he was singing it just for me. It implored me to be myself, no matter how weird, more than any other event up to that point. I hope our production does that for someone, just as it did for me when I was young.”
Orcas Center last produced “The Rocky Horror Show” in 2001. At the time, late Lopez Island resident Robert Herrmann played master Frank N. Furter. A friend of Sparks’ for many years, Herrmann shared how thrilled he was that she is “rekindling one of his beloved shows,” adamant that she direct the theatre script, not the movie version.
Herrmann passed away on Oct. 1 from health complications, and the show has been dedicated to him in his honor.
In an interview from 2009, O’Brien shared the character Frank N. Furter was loosely based off his mother. He developed the character Riff Raff for himself. Maddie Olson, who plays Riff Raff, says she is honored.
“When I think about Rocky Horror I think about a couple iconic moments, one being Frank coming down the elevator and another being Riff Raff opening the door and saying “hello” to Brad and Janet in his way,” she said. “Getting to open the door to our version of that world is a really exciting privilege. Personally, I love delving into the deep dark, phony vibes of this show. Riff Raff as a character allows me to drop into my true weird self and let that weirdness grow even deeper roots.”
If the 1975 film version titled “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” broadened the audience and became a weekend midnight movie favorite, it’s the theatre version that engendered an immersive experience, leveling the fourth wall and creating a transparent connection between cast and audience.
“I saw the show on Orcas as a teenager in 2001, and it’s extraordinary that now I’m part of its revival here,” said Colleen Smith, who plays naive Janet Weiss, fiance of Brad Majors. “The friendships you make in a production like this are intense because you spend so much time with each other laughing, crying, facing fears, overcoming challenges and ultimately sharing a gift with the community. We all really enjoy each other’s company and trust one another. The audience will see and feel all that love shining through.”
You’re a hot dog, but you better not try and hurt her, Frank N. Furter.
For Eric Underwood, who plays Brad, Sparks’ vision has created an all-new, 46-year-old “Rocky Horror Show.” Underwood, a professional actor, dancer and choreographer, has spent many years performing on Broadway.
“Each one of the characters represented can be found to varying degrees within our own psyche at some point in our development,” he said. “There’s virginal, Janet Weiss (Smith), waiting to explore her inner beast which is constantly feeding. Science nerd, Brad Majors (me), who falls for Janet but hides his inner yearnings to explore what it’s like to be with members of the same sex. And the master at unlocking all inhibitions, Frank-N-Furter (Perrine), who is not ashamed to let his freak flag fly, make love like there’s no tomorrow, and create a delusion of happiness at anyone’s expense.”
A similar sentiment was shared by Caleb Summers, who plays the heartthrob Rocky.
“Having the experience of being Rocky has given me new empathy for what it must feel like to be objectified,” Summers said. “At the same time, ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ touches a part of the core of all of us, a price of our shared humanity. Sometimes we all desire to be sexual, to step away from our composed, controlled, normal behavior and take a trip to another world.”
Dr. Scott will be played by Israel Guilford, who grew up acting on Orcas Island. Guilford says through his character he has discovered a renewed sense of passion for theatre.
This production, he warns, audience members in the front three rows are sure to feel the power of Dr. Scott’s lisp.
Magenta is played by Amanda Sparks and Colombia is played by Alison Calhoun.
Sparks’ adaptation makes clever use of the background actors called “phantoms,” who are quite transformative.
For phantom and Usherette Katharine Dorian, who moved to Orcas last year, this will mark the sixth time she has acted in “The Rocky Horror Show.” A theatre major from Fresno, California she has played Janet, Magenta and Colombia twice. Dorian says she can’t get enough.
“I really like that we’re doing it completely different than I’ve ever done it before,” she said. “Orcas Center will sell grab bags and it’s always fun to get one so you don’t feel left out. I think it’s fun to dress up glitzy or dress up as your favorite character and vibe off of that,” she said.