‘Rocky Horror’ opens this weekend in Edison Theatre
This Friday night, Oct. 19, the Performing Arts Department (PAD) will premiere their first full theater production of the school year. “The Rocky Horror Show,” a cult classic play from the 1970s, will take the stage just in time for Halloween and Parents & Family Weekend.
“We’re doing the show that the parents and family were actually a part of,” explained Dr. William Whitaker, director of the production.
“The Rocky Horror Show” will be the culmination of Washington University’s celebration of the bicentennial of Mary Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein.” The play presents a more comedic spin on the classic tale, with newly engaged couple Brian and Janet accidentally joining the party where alien Dr. Frank-n-Furter announces his new creation: Rocky Horror, the perfect man.
“It’s actually kind of a surprise,” Whitaker said, “because it was the department’s intention to be doing Nick Dear’s ‘Frankenstein.’”
Unfortunately, the department was unable to obtain the rights to that production.
“I think the universe was looking out for us,” Whitaker laughed. “It’s fun to put a button on the ‘Frankenstein’ experience with something as fun and over-the-top as ‘Rocky Horror.’”
“It’s really fun,” said senior Brandon Krisko, who will be playing Dr. Frank-n-Furter. “We always joke about it in rehearsal. Like, ‘In what other area in the University are they doing stuff like this?’ Like putting on heels and fishnets and singing about sex. In other words, being very contrary to the polite Wash. U. culture.”
Despite its humor, “The Rocky Horror Show” touches on some sensitive subjects, particularly related to gender identity and sexuality. Back when the show opened in 1975, a character like Dr. Frank-n-Furter, an alien from the planet Transsexual in the galaxy Transylvania, singing a song called “Sweet Transvestite,” was unheard of.
“I was nervous about how it would read in 2018,” Whitaker said. “Now, we’re looking at a group of students whose parents are thoughtful. It wasn’t always like this. [‘Rocky Horror’] is so campy and silly, and yet you can remember the thread of its importance.”
Over the years, “The Rocky Horror Show” has developed a cult following. Fans tend to go all out at performances: dressing up as the characters, calling out certain lines during the show, and waving things like toilet paper rolls and toast in the air.
“I don’t have the same level of cult following that a lot of ‘Rocky’ fans do,” Krisko said. “So that’s been a big part of this process. Learning about the culture and why the audience gets involved.”
Before their first show, cast went to a midnight showing, where the fans are the most dedicated.
If you are not a die-hard “Rocky Horror” fan, there is no pressure to participate. But if you choose to, the only thing you will need to supply yourself is your costume. The PAD will be selling audience participation bags for $3 containing all your “Rocky Horror” essentials.
“We have someone from the production team, usually it’s the assistant director, yelling the callouts at us just in case they happen during the performance,” Krisko said. “We’ll be in the middle of the line, and you’ll just hear the assistant director yelling ‘a–hole!’”
Both Krisko and Whitaker said the moment they are most excited to perform is the floor show.
“It’s a moment that comes towards the end of the performance, and it’s a moment when everyone is in this trance that Dr. Frank-n-Furter has put on them, and they’re putting on a drag show,” Krisko explained. “It’s a big event, they’re rocking out and it culminates in an explosion that sends everyone back to another planet.”
“We have, in our own Wash. U. kind of way, staged that,” Whitaker said. “That is something that I didn’t know if it was going to work, but I think it does.”
Washington University students will see some familiar sights during the performance as well.
“Wash. U. students will see familiar designs in the scene and the projections. So they might see a picture of Graham Chapel, or a picture of Chancellor [Mark] Wrighton,” Krisko said “So we’re doing it in a way where…this is a ‘Rocky Horror’ that takes place at Wash. U.”
“It’s like ‘Rocky Horror’ invades this place and takes over,” Whitaker laughed. “It’s ‘Rocky Horror’ meets Wash. U. with a little bit of ‘The Peewee Herman Show.’”
“The Rocky Horror Show” opens this Friday, October 19, and will run through Sunday, October 28. Performances will be Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. in Edison Theatre. Tickets are free for Wash. U. students.