Tim Curry et al warp young minds in “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
LONDON — The lips appear first, full, outrageously pouty, fire truck red. Then the pearls, reminiscent of the ones Barbara Bush wore. Then the black bustier, the fishnet stockings, and the high heels. He raises an eyebrow, cocks a hip, and sings, “I’m just a sweet transvestite from TransSEXual Transylvaniaaaaa!”
“The Rocky Horror Show,” the award-winning musical mélange of science fiction, muscle movies, and gender fluidity, has just turned 50.
In Britain it’s considered a cultural treasure, saluted on the BBC, the revival production playing to sell-out crowds in the West End, performing polymorphous perversity with wit and joy.
When I was a teenager visiting London for the first time, a few of us escaped the chaperones and went to see the original stage show at the Kings Road Theatre. Between the garter belts (known as “suspenders” in this country), the gay wedding, the exposed nipples (male and female) and the sex scenes (tastefully done in silhouette), our little Tallahassee minds were blown. We were Brad and Janet, clueless — but curious — over-sheltered American kids fallen into a strange and wonderful world without inhibitions.
We fell in love with Tim Curry as Frank-N-Furter. Best legs in the business.
“Rocky Horror” was a huge stage hit and, while the 1975 film initially flopped, it then took off as one of those “cult classics” that conquers the world. “Rocky Horror” is still the longest-running theatrical release in cinema history.
‘Live adult performance’?
Seeing the movie is now an interactive experience. Aficionados hit midnight shows, dressing up as Meatloaf, Frank, Magenta, or the Time-Warpers, throwing rice at the wedding scene, shouting “Buy an umbrella, you cheap bitch!” when Janet uses a newspaper to cover her head in the rain,” and dancing like mad in the aisles when the partiers sing, “Put your hands on your hips/You bring your knees in tight/But it’s the pelvic thrust that really drive you insaaaane! Let’s do the Time Warp again!”
I wonder if this counts as the kind of “live adult performance” now banned in the state of Florida? After all, the midnight shows usually feature real guys dressed in lady clothes performing, er, pelvic thrusts.
A new law concocted by the strangely nervous Sen. Clay Yarborough bars anything that “depicts or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement,” or anything that “predominantly appeals to a prurient, shameful, or morbid interest.”
Does a relationship between a brainless hunk and a sweet transvestite from Transexual Transylvania appeal to a “prurient interest”? The language is imprecise, not to mention prissy and peculiar, though admittedly revealing of Republicans’ deepest fantasies.
But according to Yarborough, he’s quite happy for it to put the kibosh specifically on live performances of such morals-destroying drama-cancers as “Rocky Horror” and “Hair,” which may have won a Tony and a Grammy but also contains nakedness.
Two things: First, this horse is out of the barn and 40 miles down the road. Somebody should tell Sen. Yarborough and house companion bill co-sponsor Randy “There’s evil in the world!” Fine that kids are aware of nakedness. And sex: More than half of them have seen porn by the time they’re 13.
It’s not that anyone thinks this is a good thing, but until Republicans shut down the internet, it’s a reality.
Second, unlike violent PG-13 rated movies such as “The Dark Knight,” “Alien vs. Predator,” and “The Hunger Games,” “Rocky Horror” is about pleasure, love, acceptance, and well-applied eyeliner.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and his neo-Puritan thugs seem to think that men who sometimes dress as women want to destroy Western Civilization.
But as Wanda Sykes says, “Until a drag queen walks into a school and beats eight kids to death with a copy of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ I think you’re focusing on the wrong s—t.”
Britain has plenty of problems, but at least the country isn’t freaked out by the sight of a guy in lipstick and heels. Or even a man with “prosthetic or imitation breasts,” now forbidden by Florida law. In the traditional Christmas pantomime — wacky takes on Cinderella or Aladdin — a girl plays the boy, a man plays the well-endowed “dame,” and hijinks ensue. This is a show specifically for children, with a few double-entendres thrown in for the parents.
Richard O’Brien, the half-Brit, half-Kiwi actor who created “Rocky Horror” in 1973 (and played Riff-Raff in the original and screen productions), says he once considered the show “a piece of silly nonsense.” Now he says it might be an important intervention in the current cruelty: “The lack of kindness towards the LGBT+ [community] is astonishing.”
O’Brien, 81 years old, says “Rocky Horror” is a “rainbow show.”
Seems there are too many colors in the rainbow to suit the neo-Puritan Republicans. In the long run, they’ll lose. The world has changed. As “Rocky Horror’s” prettiest song says, “Don’t dream it; be it.”
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