News Column

Untamed things: 'Rocky Horror Show' brings rush of tryouts, ticket sales

October 25, 2013


Oct. 25--JOPLIN, Mo. -- For 12 years, Lisa Wood dreamed it.

"I have tried to get this show on the stage floor for about 12 years," said Wood, who is part of the directing staff at Joplin Little Theatre.

"There is another audience out there that we're not tapping. Even though this is not the usual family-friendly production, there is a patronage that we will lose if we don't reach out to them."

Wood agreed to take on production costs through her own company, Whitewood Theatrics. So far, her investment is paying off, and ticket sales have validated her belief.

"The Rocky Horror Show" has sold out its entire three-show run, which began Thursday and runs until Saturday. The Thursday show was added after advance ticket sales filled quickly. Even tryouts were packed, she said.

"I was worried if anyone would show up," she said. "We said 'Come dressed to perform,' and I cannot believe how many embraced that. They were all excited."

Cult classic

"The Rocky Horror Show" is a musical send-up of sci-fi and horror B movies from the '50s through '70s. Featuring a high-energy rock 'n' roll score and campy lyrics, the musical has become a cult classic.

Written by Richard O'Brien, it tells the story of a newlywed couple who stumbles upon the eccentric Dr. Frank N. Furter, a self-described transvestite who is eager to show off his latest biological creation.

The 1973 musical inspired the movie "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," which was released in 1975. That film has become a cult classic for audience involvement: Three years after its debut, people started dressing in costume and talking back to the screen in response.

Those talkbacks have become their own lines, Wood said, and viewers also throw different things according to different scenes. Actors in the musical have been known to wait for the crowd's delivery of a response.

"This is a social event," she said. "They aren't coming to see a play. They will come in costume and have their own props to use."

Anyone familiar with the movie will recognize the musical, she said. The major difference is complete live production -- usually for the movies, actors just lip-synch in front of a screen showing the movie. Instead of being just a hunk in the movie, Dr. Frank N. Furter's creation, Rocky, has a few lines, for instance. A live band performs each song, and the musical will open with usherettes singing the opening ballad, not a pair of disembodied lips.

But all other "Rocky Horror" traditions will apply, right down to crowd lines and props to throw, such as confetti at the opening wedding scene. "The actors are preparing to get hit," she said.

'Show' time

Because of the excitement around the production, Wood said the cast and crew have been working hard and working between regular theater productions, wedged between "Gypsy" and "Miracle on 34th Street." Actors have been driving for regular rehearsals from Splitlog and Pittsburg, Wood said. Many of the cast are green, as well -- she said that this musical is the first for a few cast members.

The actor portraying the dominating doctor, however, is not. Wood said James Zerkel, a theater graduate of Missouri Southern State University, has a towering stage presence -- in more ways than one.

"He is 6-foot-6, and we put him in 5-inch heels," Wood said. "He is humongous and larger than life, and can sing like nobody's business. He is a really professional actor, and that's hard to come by."

Other members of the cast include Dusty Douglas, Anna Kiwala, Seth Killion, Drew Girouard, Kyle Jacobs, Rob Lewis, Richard Roberts, Michael J. Lewis, Megan Villamaria, Kendra Sparlin, Megan Thomas, Connor Barnett, Ethan Settle, Klaire Hardy, Saniya Ablatt and Maria Howe.

Crew members are also working overtime. The production has been equipped with a catwalk that extends the stage directly into the audience, she said. That puts actors very close to audience members -- so much so that crew members were building a buffer zone just in case anyone gets too friendly, she said.

"I wanted the audience to see the sweat running off arms and legs, so we built a catwalk," she said. "But now I'm worried. We have some real good-looking actors, so we're building a buffer zone around those pelvic thrusts, and we have security."

The cast and crew have bonded strongly, she said, and part of the reason may be because of the musical's pop-culture history. Celebrating its 40th anniversary, the musical continues to spawn new fans.

And while area theaters have shown the movie and featured actors, she said that, to the best of her knowledge, the live musical has never been produced in the Four-States Area.

"I've never worked with a group that bonded so quickly," she said. "Some people are there two hours early. One brought a grill to the theater one night. When they walk away from the show, they know they'll be part of something special."

Depending on response, the show may become an annual tradition. But already, Wood is happy to see the sold-out success.

"I'm feeling a lot of validation," she said. "Some of the people who didn't think it was marketable are now going, 'Oh my goodness.' We sold out about a month before we opened."

Want to go?

Tickets for the Joplin Little Theatre production of "The Rocky Horror Show" have sold out and are generally unavailable. Details: 417-623-3638.


(c)2013 The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.)

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