October 27, 2016, by Cory Walsh, Missoulian
The “Rocky Horror Show Live” is its own freaky, freaky beast: part rock concert, part musical, part exercise in audience interaction and fan service.
It’s proven to be a draw each Halloween weekend in Missoula, where it will mark its fifth year at the Wilma Theatre under the Montana Actors’ Theatre. To keep it fresh, the fishnet-minded team looks for new themes or concepts while ensuring that the show’s cult fans get what they expect.
This year, second-year director Rosie Seitz Ayers, a veteran of the Missoula theater scene, came up with a vintage horror/circus sideshow theme.
She began researching some of the inspirations that Richard O’Brien drew on for the original musical, which he adapted for the 1975 film, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
Those included horror movies from the 1930s and 1940s, she said. She saw a common thread in the classic monster stories like Frankenstein, Dracula, Godzilla, King Kong and more.
“All these monsters were misunderstood freaks of nature, is really what the undertone was,” she said. She and the production team blended that with a circus concept, drawing on sideshow culture and an abandoned amusement park concept for the set and costumes.
Don’t yell expletives just yet: The overall show and songs will remain intact, only with an overarching new look to keep the audience surprised.
Rocky will have a circus strongman getup, the narrator will have an illusionist/magician vibe. Even the peripheral cast will have fresh get-ups.
“All of the phantoms and the Kinky Chorus have these amazing personas: Penguin Boy, the escape artist, human pincushion, bearded lady, ape man,” and more, she said.
Producer Reid Reimers said there’s still the underlying themes that audiences have grown to love: loss of innocence, the dangers of indulgence, expressing yourself, and finding your own circus to run away with, if you will.
Reimers is returning for his fifth year as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the fishnet clad character made famous by Tim Curry. If you’ve seen him in the role before, you’d remember. Reimers, a host on the SciShow Space YouTube channel, stands 6 feet, 6 inches before the heels.
He said he keeps coming back for many, many reasons, but he thoroughly enjoys seeing brand-new cast members who “have maybe done a lot of theater before, maybe they haven’t. There’s no way to prepare for it.”
“After somebody’s first performance of Rocky, there’s almost this frenetic, vibrating energy,” he said.
The audience, is after all, invited to yell unprintable words at certain characters, which isn’t something that normally happens at a musical.
“A normal musical has a real essence of specific timing but our timing has to be improvisational, because it is an agreement with the audience,” Ayers said. “We do not desire to control them in any way.”
The set will look like an abandoned amusement park, with projections generated by multimedia artist Austin Slominski that go onto the Wilma’s big screen.
The theater company first staged “Rocky Horror” in 2009 and 2010. A multi-year hiatus followed, and they revived the tradition in 2014.
This is the second year that the show has been held since the Wilma underwent extensive remodeling.
They thanked the staff and the owner, Nick Checota, for hosting them at the historic opera house – in fact, it’s the only theatrical performance of the year at the venue.
“Without the patience of especially Nick and their whole crew, that wouldn’t work at all,” Reimers said.