Well, babies, prepare to give yourself over to a few nights of absolute pleasure.
On hiatus since 2010, The Rocky Horror Show returns 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to its live stage production at Lyric Theatre in the Plaza District, located at 1727 NW 16th St.
The antici ... pation for nights filled with rowdy crowds and celebrated cross-dressing are only a few things that make this cult classic such a party performance.
The play, written by Richard O’Brien and debuted in London’s West End, is a British musical comedy. It was adapted into a movie in 1975. The star-studded cast featured Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N. Furter and a young, perky-boobed Susan Sarandon as Janet — the pushy girlfriend who finds herself discovering her own sexuality at Rocky’s mansion — and set the already-stellar script into orbit, grabbing the attention of culture seekers everywhere.
The lead character, Dr. Frank N. Furter, embodies incredible masculinity and femininity and the balance between the two. He’s the boss, a thigh-high and bustier-wearing character who defines cult fiction. Frank is a true celebration of diversity, awareness, self-acceptance and fun.
It’s a crazy culmination defined in the lyric, “Not much of a man by the light of day, but by night I’m one hell of a lover.”
Brown is boss
A production of this magnitude needs a solid foundation — the director. After all, even the most clever talent needs guidance. Lyric sought out Matthew Alvin Brown, a local talent known for vibrant rock operas and trademark live-band musicals.
Brown’s legendary take on Hedwig and the Angry Inch has rocked Oklahoma stages for more than 10 years. It has also become a sub-cultured performance that has helped define performance art in Oklahoma City. This summer, he landed his first job as director in The University of Central Oklahoma’s Summerstock Production’s presentation of The Sound of Music.
“I’m a salty dog. I do Rocky Horror and Hedwig and King GuitArthur and the Drüggs. So I was like, ‘How in the world am I going to direct The Sound of Music?’ I’ll either fail miserably or I’ll figure it out.”
Brown presented a triumphant rendition of the beloved Von Trapp family and the songstress nun-turned-nanny.“I got to direct a big show, and I feel like that kind of prepped me for what we’re about to jump into,” he said. “The best part about being a director is when you have an idea that is so out of left field but totally works and you see your cast excited about it — that’s what’s cool. It was fun during The Sound of Music to make it funny so that people cared about it again. People get lazy because it is a classic. I learned a lot of lessons from that that I’m excited about putting into practice with Rocky Horror.
“There are so many images with Rocky Horror — there are so many iconic moments — that I wanted to honor all of that stuff,” Brown said.
He won’t be the only name audiences will recognize. Chris Castleberry, synonymous with solid and successful performance theater in OKC, is also onboard. Castleberry directed many of Brown’s versions of Hedwig.
Said Brown, “He’s listed as the choreographer, and I’m listed as the director, but really, we’re putting it together as a team.”
Since it’s such well-known material, a lot of direction and choreography had to be a collaborative effort.
“What’s fun is that Chris is completely insane like me. It’s really interesting when we’re on this weird, same channel. It’s like nobody’s been at this channel before,” Brown said. “There’s going to be a lot that will surprise people.”
Monte, take the wheel
“I’ve been a performer since I was 5 years old, then professionally right out of high school,” said Monte Riegel Wheeler. This is Wheeler’s fourth time assuming the role of the notorious Frank N. Furter.
“We found a lot of moments of humor. A lot of hard-core masculinity within the corset and heels. A harder-edged, sort of tougher version (of Frank). We’re going to be just a little bit more evil than even Tim Curry was,” Wheeler said.
He doesn’t mind the work it takes to nail a big role. In fact, he embraces it — in high heels even.
“That’s one of the things that’s so fun about the life I live. You never know if you’re going to wear pants or fishnets.”
Wheeler earned his chops acting four years in New York in two off- Broadway shows. He took advantage of workshops and experimental theater and then applied the knowledge back in his hometown of Wichita, Kan. There, he opened a theater with friends called Cabaret Oldtown. He said it’s a “cool, art-deco, off-Broadway-style space.”
This isn’t his first time to embody Furter, though it’s his first time to take direction from Brown.
And Brown’s direction comes with a twist.
Expect all the characters that are known and loved, as well as unforgettable scenes. However, also be prepared for one different thing about this freak show — it will be a run-down, demented circus sideshow.
During a conversation between Jeffrey Meek, the production’s costume designer, and Brown, the offbeat theme was born.
“As we were talking about the different characters, Meek had an idea about Rocky Horror being a strong man in a circus. When we had that weird conversation, I knew it was the way to go,” he said.
It didn’t take long for Brown and Meek to rally the cast in support of the vision.
“There are so many moments that are iconic from the film that the director (Brown) and choreographer (Castleberry) have some brilliant ways of honoring. Lots of special moments that people love from the film — even with the demented twist,” Wheeler said.
Let’s be Frank
“It’s as crazy backstage as it is in the audience. This show is only about having fun,” Brown said. “I guess there’s a message: Don’t dream it; be it. Give yourself over to absolute pleasure. But let’s be honest — this is about sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll and fun.”
Brown said it’ll be a party in the entire building — backstage, under the stage, in the house seats and in the sound and the light booths.
“It’s going to be insanity,” he said. Added Wheeler, “It’s a party. You can yell things at the actors on stage. You don’t get that in The King and I.”
To add to the delightful clamor, Brian Hamilton will lead a live rock band to accompany the musical. Hamilton appeared in the cast of the 2007 Rocky Horror production at Lyric and again as musical director in 2010.
“We’re adding a demonic calliope sort of song. But the songs are all going to be the same,” Brown said. “We’re going to boost up the creepy.”
Wheeler added that he plans to “sing his guts out” and that “it’ll just be a rocking good time.”
Sex, drugs and queer-punk rock
“It’s exciting. It’s sexy. It’s weird,” said Brown of the genre that Rocky Horror encapsulates.
a self-professed die-hard fan of queer-punk rock theater, Brown’s
intrigue and motivation toward his role in the production is evident.
It’s a switch from 2010, when he played Brad, Janet’s somewhat reluctant fiancé who finds himself mysteriously and awkwardly attracted to Dr. Frank N. Furter after a pressured proposal to his girlfriend.
This year, Sean Eckart is Brad. He played Riff Raff in previous renditions. Renee Anderson returns as Columbia, from her role as Magenta in 2010. And Rocky veteran Lexi Windsor — Columbia in 2010 — will take on Janet.
“It’s interesting when you’re kind of the boss. You have two options. You can fold and run away, or you can step up,” Brown said. “You get into this sort of blind zone where you’re like, ‘I’m making something.’ It’s a little more intense, and I like that.”
The play is largely a magical descent into a happily perverse universe free from rules.
The overarching themes found throughout the play are those of excitement and celebration of self, a notion profoundly deep and meaningful.
When Wheeler was 17 years old, he would sneak to his friend’s house to watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He said it showed him “people can express themselves and not be ridiculed.”
“The greatest part of playing Frank is that he’s perhaps the greatest freak of all, but he’s the boss. Everyone loves him,” Wheeler said.
To Wheeler, Frank N. Furter “represents celebrating masculinity and femininity within you as the individual,” he said. “It’s great to celebrate these things.”