Before last Saturday night at the Carolina Asheville Cinema, it had been about 30 years since I last attended a public screening of Jim Sharman’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) with a live cast. Back then these midnight shows were pretty common. A group of fans would dress up as the characters in the film and act out their parts and lip-synch the songs while standing at the bottom of the screen. The audience—mostly made up of people very familiar with the movie—did their bit to keep things going by shouting things so that the on-screen performers seemed to respond to them. The final touches were supplied by an array of apt props that usually included rice, squirt bottles, newspapers (to be turned into confetti after their initial use as rain gear), cigarette lighters, rolls of toilet paper and, for the truly ambitious, pieces of toast. It was raucous, noisy, fun and more than a little messy.
So when I was told that the Montford Park Players had breathed new life into this ritualistic form of showing Rocky Horror, I was intrigued to see what changes had taken place over the years. I wasn’t surprised to notice that quite a bit had changed—after all, 30 years is a very long time, especially in terms of pop-culture references—but I was glad to see that a lot had remained fairly constant. Better still, the uninhibited spirit was largely intact, even if cigarette lighters (open flames) had been deemed out of bounds and replaced somewhat less effectively with glow sticks, while theaters had become a little less lenient on the subject of squirt bottles.
One of the most notable changes was the level of preparation that went into the live show. I don’t recall seeing quite this much effort being put into the shows I’d seen. Back then it was largely limited to costumes and enough lighting to be able to see the performers. This new crop of Rocky fans have in some ways taken the proceedings to new levels with props and other accouterments to give their show a special feel. They’ve also upped the ante on how they introduce “virgins” (first-timers) to the Rocky experience, but that’s a surprise I’ll leave folks to discover for themselves.
Old-timers like myself might find a few things jarring. No one exhorts Timmy Curry to “reach for Hamilton Beach” when he takes the electric knife at the dinner table. While I’d put that down to the passing of an old ad campaign, they do retain the equally bewhiskered Shake ‘n’ Bake TV slogan, “And I helped,” to the announcement that dinner has been prepared. Other things are constant. The call-and-response on the song “Eddie” is nearly word-for-word what it was way back when. That’s kind of comforting.
This new version is, if anything, wilder, raunchier and more energetic than the ones I knew. That’s mostly a plus, though it sometimes could feel a little too desperate—as if the performers’ efforts to goose the call-and-response were sometimes in competition with the movie rather than complementing it. I’d rather they have worked with the film instead of against it, but that’s a minor quibble that will probably dissipate as the audiences become more used to the process and their lines.
All in all, it’s a solid presentation that both newcomers and old campaigners will find entertaining. It’s usually only performed at Carolina Cinemas the second Saturday of every month, but being October with all the Halloween antics that entails, it’s been playing every Saturday night—and will be on again, of course, this coming Saturday for Halloween. I can’t think of a better way to cap Halloween than by doing the “Time Warp” at Rocky Horror at midnight. For more information, visit www.montfordparkplayers.org and click on “Show Info.”