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Cover Story: Lyric Theatre's Rocky Horror steps right back onstage

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(Cover photo Garett Fisbeck / Cover design Christopher Street)
  • Cover photo Garett Fisbeck / Cover design Christopher Street

By design, The Rocky Horror Show breaks all the rules. No one is supposed to throw anything during an ordinary musical, especially not on stage. Regularly, there is certainly no shouting while a production is underway. Society is supposed to need rules, after all. Without them, there is chaos.

However, this Halloween season, Lyric Theater of Oklahoma once again gives over to absolute pleasure.

“It’s the one night we encourage people to be crazy,” said Michael Baron, producing artistic director at Lyric and director of this year’s production.

The Rocky Horror Show runs Thursday through Nov. 5 at Lyric Theatre, 1727 NW 16th St. A special Halloween performance is 9 p.m. Oct. 31. Those familiar with the Tim Curry-led 1975 cult classic film The Rocky Horror Picture Show can expect a close rendition onstage but a more fun and engaging experience. For those who have no idea what it means to “do the Time Warp,” here is a brief plot synopsis:

Unassuming, everyday couple Brad and Janet are somewhere in the rural countryside when they find themselves in car trouble. They head to a nearby castle to use its phone, but they are welcomed in by Dr. Frank N. Furter (a corset-wearing, self-described transvestite from the planet Transexual in the galaxy Transylvania) and an ensemble of lace- and leather-clad underlings, chief among them the trollish Riff Raff and his tap-dancing sidekick Columbia. From there, Brad and Janet must navigate through murderous, cannibalistic and frequently sexual plot twists and turns.

That might sound morbid, but Rocky Horror plays up its B-movie camp in a big way. Baron said this year’s production also ups the glitz and grandeur in a glam-rock version of the show. The interior aesthetic will be reminiscent of a New York club.

“It’s sort of like Rocky Horror meets Beyoncé,” Baron said. “It’s like a full-out light show with a crazy live band and backup dancers.”

Famous feedback

Rocky Horror is as much about what goes on in the audience as it is about what happens on the stage.

For $5, fans can buy a bag of favors and props to throw when cued and keep engaged during the performance. Proceeds benefit the theater company’s youth academy.

This year, fans can buy a “test-tube shot” (a pink lemonade shooter with citrus vodka, cranberry juice and sweet and sour mix) before the show at the Lyric bar to down during Frank N. Furter’s lab scene.

“As if the show isn’t crazy enough,” Baron said.
Over the years, the Rocky faithful developed its own script of callbacks and rituals tied to distinctive moments in the story. Guests will find items like a boa, a party hat, a playing card, toilet paper, a rubber glove and other show necessities inside the Lyric bag.

In the past, fans have thrown food items like rice and hot dogs at the show, but most theaters, including Lyric, have stopped this practice because it is hard to clean up and damages the stage.

Show callbacks are for those “in the know,” but a quick internet search will lead anyone to a rundown of popular exclamations and when to say them.

Guests are encouraged to come in costume, be it as their favorite Rocky character or whatever they are going as for Halloween this year.

Because of the show’s insider feel, attendance can sometimes be intimidating for first-timers. However, inclusion is one of Rocky Horror’s foremost themes. Baron said rookies are not only welcomed to attend, their presence is often craved by Rocky veterans.

“You kind of relive your first time with them,” he said. “By the time the show is over, they want to come back the next time we do it.”

Those who cannot wait to relive the experience should consider attending another show before this season ends, because Lyric only puts on Rocky Horror every three years. This is the fourth time Lyric has featured the production.

“Probably the board and the community would love for me to do it every year because it sells so well and is such a huge hit,” Baron said, “but it takes a lot of work to put together. And it’s not special if we do it every year.”

Iconic roles

The Rocky Horror Picture Show likely wouldn’t have developed broad appeal as a cult film without a standout performance from Curry as Frank. The English actor, who also portrayed the doctor in the show’s original 1973 London and 1974 Los Angeles stage productions, set a high bar for all to follow with the character’s insatiable and unstable nature.

Baron said J. Robert Moore, this year’s Frank, rises to the challenge.

“He’s even more glamorous and fabulous than Tim Curry was,” Baron said. “He has elements of Tim Curry, but he’s just like 10 feet tall in those heels and he’s an amazing singer and actor.”

Moore, an Austin, Texas-based actor who was cast for the role in March, said Frank is fun to play because it allows him to go from hot to cold at the drop of a dime. The doctor is delightfully unguarded in speech.

“It’s one thing to stand there and smile and be a hero,” Moore said, “it’s another thing to stomp across the stage and yell and scream and get your way and make problems for people. That’s really more fun.”

Frequent Lyric guests likely saw Moore as the leading characters in the 2015 productions of Big Fish and Billy Elliot. This year’s cast also includes Andrew Keeler as Brad, Mattie Joyner as Janet, previous Rocky Horror director Matthew Alvin Brown as Riff Raff, Lexi Windsor as Columbia and Haulston Mann as Frank N. Furter’s muscle-bound creation Rocky.

Moore said while the production sticks close to the original script, the actors apply their own interpretations to their characters.

“Everyone knows these roles,” he said, “but since everyone does know these roles, we’re able to kind of twist them and play with them and make them a little more fun for us as actors and hopefully for the audience as well.”

Dream world

Rocky Horror stood out in the ’70s because it was a time when gay and transgender characters were not portrayed in the media, especially not in a way that treated all gender and sexual identities on the same level. It was one of the first times a film or play presented personal identity as a point on a broad spectrum, not as part of a simple, two-sided standard.

Baron said there was a time when it felt like every town in America had its own midnight screening of the film.

“It allows straight and gay people a safe place to have a good time, to express themselves,” he said. “The show has been going on for decades, and for a long time, Saturday night at midnight was the one time a week when a lot of people, particularly gay people, could go out and be free and not be ostracized.”

“Don’t dream it, be it” is arguably Frank’s most famous line (though it has plenty of competition). Moore said there is no better way to sum up Rocky Horror’s theme.

Frank certainly behaves in a villainous way, but at the character’s core are relatable senses of desire and freedom that many people share.

“As crazy and kooky and nuts as the storyline can be,” Moore said, “at the heart of it, you’ve really got someone telling the world, ‘Go out and get your chunk and have an amazing time doing it.’”

Visit lyrictheatreokc.com.

Print Headline: Risqué spectacle, Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma brings back The Rocky Horror Show for its wild, triennial production.

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