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Friday, April 15, 2022

URI Theatre wraps up season with cult classic ‘The Rocky Horror Show’

Musical opens April 21 in Will Theatre

Tony LaRoche

Aidan Costa and Olivia Humulock play the wholesome couple Brad Majors and Janet Weiss in “The Rocky Horror Show.” They are circled by phantoms Zoe Pepin, left, and Jenna Muldoon, right, with the play’s narrator, Justin Peters, in back. (URI photos by Jesse Dufault)

The University of Rhode Island Theatre Department is doing the “Time Warp” again, returning to Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s spooky castle for “The Rocky Horror Show.” Richard O’Brien’s gender-bending spoof of horror and science fiction B-movies opens Thursday, April 21, in the Robert E. Will Theatre.

Approaching its 50th anniversary, “Rocky Horror” has reached cult classic status as both a play and film, exploring themes of sexuality and self-exploration to a rock-n-roll beat. 

The Rocky Horror Show” premiered on stage in London’s Royal Court Theatre in 1973 and made the leap to movie houses two years later with the release of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” starring Tim Curry as Frank-N-Furter, Susan Sarandon as Janet Weiss, and Meat Loaf as Eddie. 

Thanks to midnight screenings – where audience members, or “shadow casts,” would shout back to the screen or act out scenes – the movie has become one of the top grossing musicals of all time.

Brad and Janet, played by Aidan Costa and Olivia
Humulock, look for a place to come in from the rain.
As any good horror spoof, the play opens on a dark and stormy night. Young innocents Brad Majors and Janet Weiss go off to visit a former science tutor when their car gets a flat tire on a deserted road. Looking for help, they end up at the castle of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, who’s throwing a party to unveil his evil Frankenstein-like creation.

“‘Rocky Horror’ is very unique and special because of its openness,” said director Erin Haas, who earned her bachelor of fine arts degree in directing from URI in 2021. 

“It throws off binary gender roles and it has this very ‘be yourself no matter what’ message. ‘Don’t dream it, be it’ is the main theme of the show.

“It has always attracted people who maybe feel a little bit left out,” she added. 

“When the film got midnight movie status, all of the people who felt they couldn’t go out dressed as they liked in the middle of the day could go out at midnight and no one would judge them. You see these new generations that keep finding the musical, and especially this generation that is just so lovely and open with who they are. It speaks to them.”

The play is the first URI mainstage musical since 1998 that is being directed by someone other than Professor Paula McGlasson, who has worked on every URI musical as choreographer or director since joining URI in 1985. She directed URI’s last production of “Rocky Horror” 12 years ago.

“I had great memories of directing ‘Rocky Horror’ in 2010 with [recent Tony Award winner] Andrew Burnap in the lead role so I declined to direct it a second time,” said McGlasson. “‘Rocky’ just happens to be one of Erin’s favorite musicals so she was an excellent choice for director this year.”

Haas has worked on many productions of the play along with performing in the “shadow casts” at numerous screenings. She also suggested staging “Rocky Horror” to close the Theatre Department’s season after the original choice, “The Wizard of Oz,” didn’t work out.

Just a year removed from URI as a student, Haas says her connections to the actors have helped with the production. “It’s definitely helped that I know a lot of them. At auditions, it was nice to know their background as actors having seen some of their work in classes,” she said. “Because I came to URI as an older student, I have a bit of a mom aesthetic with them. I’m old enough to be some of their mothers.”

“Erin is the best,” said Ben Pereira ’23, who worked with Haas last spring when she directed the understudies on URI’s production of “Miss Nelson is Missing!” “I think something that is so crucial for this process is having the director love the show and it’s clear that Erin sees this as a dream project.”

Pereira, a theater and public relations major from Danbury, Connecticut, is tackling the big job of playing Frank-N-Furter, the face of “Rocky Horror.” While acting in heels and a corset, Pereira is taking on the challenge of making Frank more than a “narcissistic, insane scientist.”

“Despite being this over-the-top character, he has so many real and human qualities and motives,” he said. “I think that’s why so many people have attached themselves to Frank and this show.”

Olivia Humulock ’23, of Narragansett, wanted to be in “Rocky Horror” because she felt the role of Janet, who goes from a frightened young woman to embracing her power and sexuality, would push her out of her comfort zone and help her grow as an actor. Her love for the music, especially Janet’s songs, such as especially “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me,” was another reason.

“Also, it’s ‘Rocky Horror,’” she said. “It’s an iconic, out of this world show that’s hilarious and embraces who you are as a person. Despite its insanity, the messages are very important to me.”

Audience members can look forward to a set, designed by Jake Richards-Hegnauer, that mixes elements of the 2010 set with additions that pay homage to the earlier production and has a homemade aesthetic similar to that of B-movie film legend Ed Wood. The music, which includes classics such as “Time Warp,” “Sweet Transvestite,” and “Damn It, Janet,” is directed by Emily Turtle ’19, and the choreography is by long-time URI visiting artist Dante Sciarra.

“‘Rocky Horror’ is a mix of lots of music genres, which is why the show is so appealing to such a wide variety of audience members,” said Turtle, who won an award for best music direction from Motif magazine for her work on “Rocky Horror” at OUT LOUD theater in 2019. “There is rock-n-roll, moments of traditional storytelling theatre, and ballads. Because it doesn’t stick to one genre of music, it keeps audience members on their toes.”

“As a kid growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I was a fan of horror films and I was pleasantly surprised to learn ‘Rocky Horror’ wasn’t a horror film at all. It’s a really cool, fun and great movie musical,” said Sciarra. “Audiences can expect a great night of fun, frivolity, surprises and entertainment.”

While props won’t be provided, audience members are encouraged to call back to the stage during the show, Haas said. “Hopefully, we’ll have audience members who are into it. I’m sure we will. There’s a lot them. This show brings people out of the woodwork.”

“The Rocky Horror Show” runs April 21-23 and April 28-30 at 7:30 p.m. and April 24 and May 1 at 2 p.m. in Will Theatre at the Fine Arts Center, 105 Upper College Road, Kingston Campus. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $18 for senior citizens and URI students, faculty and staff. 

Tickets can be purchased online, or at the URI Theatre box office in the Fine Arts Center, or by calling (401) 874-5843. For more information on tickets and the University’s COVID-19 policy, go to the ticket website.