The legacy of ‘Rocky Horror’ lives on at the Morris
Natalie Allton | Friday, November 3, 2023
There is no greater Halloween movie than “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
It’s got everything: a killer soundtrack, campy dialogue, Tim Curry in drag and, perhaps most importantly, a decades-long culture of dressing up, throwing toilet paper and doing the “Time Warp” with hundreds of your closest strangers.
A touring production stopped by the Morris Performing Arts Center in downtown South Bend on Oct. 27, so I gathered together several of my dearest victims — sorry, I meant friends — and took them down to have a campy, trashy, delightful evening at the theater.
I’ve written about “Rocky” before, as a retrospective of the film itself. I must say, though, the magic of “Rocky Horror” comes not from the film, but from the following. If you’ve only ever seen “Rocky” by yourself on a laptop screen, you’re doing it wrong. The show thrives in a theater. It lives in the crowd. It soars when it isn’t a movie, but an experience.
The average age of the crowd at the Morris Performing Arts Center was higher than I expected, with a high turnout of people over 40 and most dressed in a costume from the movie. My group dressed up as well, and we were stopped and asked for a picture several times. The best costume by far was a giant wearable version of the iconic red lips that sing “Science Fiction/Double Feature” over the opening credits, and that was the costume that (rightfully) won the contest at the beginning of the show.
The main draw of this performance was a pre-screening talk by Barry Bostwick, the original Brad Majors. His love for the movie is palpable, and he seems so excited to be part of its legacy. He talked about the importance of the film for the queer community, joked about the possibility of seeing your grandparents at the screening and even sang a few bars of the cut Brad song “Once in Awhile.” At 78 years old, Bostwick has cemented his status as a living legend, and to get to see him talk about a movie he did 48 years ago that still has an active fanbase was such an incredible experience.
This showing of “Rocky Horror” was accompanied by a shadow cast — actors onstage in front of the screen who mouth the lines and copy the actions of the movie above them. It’s a time-honored “Rocky” tradition. I have, admittedly, seen more engaged shadow casts, but that’s not necessarily the fault of the actors. The ensemble was the combined product of three different “Rocky Horror” shadow casts from the surrounding area. Still, there’s nothing more fun than watching someone strut around in fishnets and high heels lip-syncing “Sweet Transvestite.” The cast also made great use of the floor, coming down off of the stage to walk through the audience during “Hot Patootie” and “I’m Going Home.”
The real fun of the performance, though, was the crowd, who were mostly “Rocky” veterans and who clearly knew the film backwards and forwards. Shout out to the person sitting towards the back of the theater who somehow knew something to shout before and after every line in the film. That kind of dedication is unparalleled. I’m always glad to hear new lines to shout at “Rocky” beyond the usual canon of “Say it!” and the Brad and Janet epithets, and I was pleasantly surprised to encounter several lines that I had never heard before. The true spirit of “Rocky” is kept alive by people coming up with new phrases, cultural references and double entendres, and many of the lines I heard seemed like they were inspired in the moment as opposed to being premeditated. Prop bags were available for purchase, and though my group decided to forego them, it’s always heartwarming to hear the snap of latex gloves or see playing cards fluttering through the air.
It’s been 48 years since the release of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and if the enthusiasm of the crowd at the Morris was any indication, the film’s legacy can only grow from here. At the end of the day, I’m left with just one question: When will Notre Dame finally establish a “Rocky Horror” shadow cast?