For his first major project since his beloved rock quartet Modern Strangers disbanded, Courtney Cahill has created a monster — literally and figuratively.
The Asheville-based drummer cooked up the idea for Rocky Horror Music Show the week before Halloween 2020. Bored and saddened by the pandemic, he sat on his couch and started streaming the 1975 film The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The cult classic, with its combination of music, comedy and horror, quickly lifted his spirits.
“I thought to myself, ‘The pandemic’s probably going to be over next year, so I have a week and a year to figure out a whole big deal for next Halloween,’” he says.
As he continued watching the film, he remembers focusing less on the outlandish costumes and makeup, and more on Richard O’Brien’s instrumental compositions. “I think what people don’t realize is the music is actually amazing,” he says.
“I’d always been a casual fan,” Cahill continues of the film. “I’ve watched it several times, but I’m not a superfan.”
However, in focusing on the music and subsequently taking a deep dive into the film’s cast recording, he enjoyed the vocal performances a great deal more and came to revere the music as a work of genius.
Committed to putting on a tribute act of the show’s music and songs, Cahill texted then-bandmates Troy Crossley and Alex Deutsch, who immediately signed on. Together, the three friends began casting the rest of the production with fellow local musicians.
For castle handyman Riff Raff, Andrew Thelston fit the bill with his high-register vocals and lead guitar skills — as well as his long hair. Meanwhile, Cahill describes violinist/vocalist Kate Bryant, as “a squeaky-clean female singer,” and therefore an ideal fit for protagonist Janet.
“And I had already considered myself for [male protagonist] Brad,” Cahill says. “Barry Bostwick [who plays Brad in the 1975 film] is kind of a bad singer and kind of a wooden, vanilla dork. I’m like, ‘I could totally pull that off.’”
Meanwhile, Crossley, a former “theater kid” whose older siblings introduced him to the movie before he was old enough to make much sense of the material, plays the show’s signature role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter.
“I distinctly remember family road trips in which they would sing the songs and act out the parts in the car,” Crossley says. “I would have ‘Dammit Janet’ stuck in my head for days after.”
Eager to return to acting, which he hadn’t pursued since moving to Asheville in 2016, Crossley accepted Cahill’s offer without much hesitation. But shortly thereafter, he remembers having “a series of teeny panic attacks for several weeks.”
“To say Tim Curry’s performance is iconic is the understatement of the millennium,” Crossley says of the film actor who originally played Dr. Frank-N-Furter. “I didn’t think I was the one for the role, and I wasn’t sure I could handle the pressure. But as soon as we had our first rehearsal, any doubts I had went out the window. It’s impossible not to have a good time playing Frank-N-Furter. He’s such an extravagant and entertaining character even in writing. It motivates me to go all-in.”
Halloween and beyond
Rehearsals began in July, and that castwide camaraderie, which Cahill likens to the giddy enthusiasm of a high school musical, helped shape the look and flow of the show in true collaborative fashion. Though foremost a rock show — performed by an ensemble featuring Deutsch on bass and Cahill and Crossley switching off on drums when scenes require their full acting attention — the film’s famous lines of dialogue are delivered with theatrical aplomb.
Additionally, narration between songs by The Criminologist (played by The Deathbots’ Karl Knierim) helps stitch the notoriously weird story together and makes it easier for newcomers to follow. Rounding out the endeavor on the technical side, local theater veteran Lauren Rivas is helping with costumes, and drag performer Persephone Pickle, partner of the show’s Rocky, Aaron Churchill, is providing makeup assistance.
All of the above and more will come together on Friday, Oct. 22, when Rocky Horror Music Show makes its local debut at Asheville Music Hall, complete with a post-show DJ’d dance party, where costumes are strongly encouraged. By then, the production will have had an Oct. 8 test run at Capone’s in Johnson City, Tenn., but Cahill is already looking toward the future and hopes to turn the show into a regular offering, ideally quarterly, and likely with different people involved.
“I was looking up when Tim Curry’s birthday was so we’d have a real reason to do it, and it’s [April 16], about halfway between Halloweens, which is perfect,” he says. “And we could definitely recast it many times over with people in the scene — and that’s actually probably the plan of what we’re going to do because it’s hard to get 12 people on the same page, schedulewise.”
WHAT: Rocky Horror Music Show
WHERE: Asheville Music Hall, 31 Patton Ave. avl.mx/ajf
WHEN: Friday, Oct. 22, at 10 p.m. $15 advance/$20 day of show; 21 and older