It’s been over forty years since The Rocky Horror Show premiered in London. That was on June 19, 1973. In 1975 it became a cult movie titled The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
On October 20th 2016 Fox TV will premiere a two-hour musical re-imagining of the classic film, executive produced, directed and choreographed by Kenny Ortega.
The movie follows a young couple, Janet (Victoria Justice) and Brad (Ryan McCartan). When their car breaks down in the pouring rain they discover a nearby mansion. There they encounter a sexually ambiguous mad scientist Dr Frank-N-Furter (Laverne Cox). The Dr is holding the annual Transylvanian science convention to showcase the birth of Rocky Horror (Staz Nair). He is a muscular creation who fulfills all of Frank’s desires.
Also featured in the musical are Ben Vereen as Dr Everett Scott and Tim Curry as the Narrator/Criminologist. Curry created the role of Dr Frank-N-Furter in the London production, and reprised the role in the 1975 movie.
Kenny Ortega and Executive Producer Lou Adler, who produced the original movie in ’75, came to the TV Critics tour. They came along with Tim Curry and Ben Vereen, to talk about their new version of the popular cult classic.
Kenny, what interested you in doing this reimagined version?
Kenny Ortega: I fell in love with this project in 1973 when I saw Tim do it. I’ve been a fan all these years. I love rock and roll, this story [and] this music. It was the greatest fun. I don’t know how I’m going to do anything else for a while after this experience.
In the 40 year history of Rocky Horror, I think subsequent productions have struggled to figure out what to do about the audience participation that became so endemic to the series. How did you approach incorporating the audience participation part?
Kenny Ortega: It was there from the beginning. When we first embarked on developing this reimagining of Rocky Horror Picture Show, the very first thing that was laid out was that we wanted to celebrate the fans with this new departure.
Also we wanted to bring in a cast that didn’t have to fill in anyone else’s shoes, but just to wear their own proudly. The celebration of the fandom was really important that that aspect was connected as a character to this new piece.
Lou Adler: And Tim Curry joined us right from the start and opened up a dialogue. When we shot the film and we filled the theater with fans, we tried many things. We wanted to make sure the callbacks (from the audience) didn’t get in the way of telling a story, but that they celebrated the telling of a story.
Mr Adler, when this was suggested to you, did you think, ‘Wow, what an amazingly good idea,’ or are you ever surprised by anything to do with The Rocky Horror Show?
Lou Adler: I don’t think anything about Rocky Horror doesn’t surprise us every time we do it, stage, film (or) television. It’s really an audience film. Rocky Horror always, in my particular case, had a mind of its own. It sounds a little corny, but I wait for the fans to tell us what we do next.
We started doing this television idea quite a while ago, and I guess it just wasn’t the right time. (Then) Tim came along and validated it by wanting to be in it. Kenny came along and could take it to another place, always keeping the fans in mind. What Kenny and I said in the beginning was (to) be true to the original, but make it contemporary.
Tim, what was your experience like doing this, and is there anything that you may remember from the original film?
Tim Curry: I remember quite a lot of the original film as it was my first movie, and I didn’t miss much. It was fun, though, to do it again. I actually offered myself as Dr. Scott, because I was already in a wheelchair. They thought the narrator was a better fit, and I enjoyed it a lot.
Rocky fans all over the world want to know, do you give this version your unconditional endorsement?
Tim Curry: I do, indeed.
What do you think about Dr Frank-N-Furter being your enduring legacy?
Tim Curry: There’s not a lot I can do about it really.
Kenny, can you talk about casting Laverne Cox, a transwoman, as Frank-N-Furter?
Kenny Ortega: We discovered when she came in to do her screen test, (that Laverne) wanted to play this role ever since she was a little girl. According to Fox, (it was) one of the great screen tests that had ever come past them.
She’s a force, five-octave range, a degree in dance from a major university, acting her heart out in New York and studying for over 15 years. (She walked) in and (brought) something into the room that made us all realize there was no B plan. We knew it from the beginning that this was the person that gave us reason to make this movie.
Ben, since you have perhaps the most extensive musical performer career amongst your colleagues, is there an experience you can liken this to in terms of a new production, a production that’s being reconceived, or is this completely its own animal?
Ben Vereen: Well, what first comes to mind, since you put it that way, was the musical I did with Moses at Mount Sinai. (he laughs)
No. This stands on its own. It’s its own unique breadth of creativity. What Kenny and Lou have done here is to assimilate all these wonderful artists that I’ve had the honor of sitting among and being a part of. It has its own expression, its own iconic place in the universe. And so I can’t compare it to anything other than what it is, and it is, if I might say, great.
Tim, with this production, what created the magic for you?
Tim Curry: Just doing it again but in a different role. Kenny [doesn’t run] an easy set, but a set where you really feel you can try anything, and it was a lot of fun.
Ben Vereen: If I might add, having Tim Curry green light this meant so much to (me) and I’m sure for all of us. I couldn’t wait to get there just to be able to work with Tim Curry.
Lou Adler: And that goes the same for the fans. As you can imagine, when we announced that we were doing this, there was a tremendous backlash from fans that have been with us for 40 years.
That all loosened up and became more interesting to them when Tim signed on. His validation gave them something to look forward to.
Tim Curry: I loved being there.