Decidedly Dirty, Dastardly Good: Rocky Horror Is a Smash Hit

Katie Walsh-

Sam Bock ‘21 and Hannah Lieberman ‘18 share an intimate moment as Brad and Janet. Photo by Katie Walsh ‘20

After I heard Rocky Horror Picture Show was to be performed at Davidson, I waited, to quote Dr. Frank-N-Furter, in excited antici———pation to attend. Rocky Horror was that musical growing up. If you were a theater kid, it was the show everyone wanted to do in high school, but wasn’t allowed to—it was subversively sexual, fishnet-clad, and completely nonsensical. And even for those who never dreamed of performing it, Rocky Horror was still “Time Warp” playing over Halloween parties before Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

The show is a homage to transgression, to hedonistic abandon, to incoherent fun. It draws you in just as it confuses you, and the seductive voice of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, in his red-lip liner and blue-eyeshadowed gaze, pulls you into his machinations, strange and inexplicable though they may be. Is it about vampires? Sexual promiscuity? Aliens? Frankenstein? Or Meat Loaf’s cameo appearance? Well, the answer is all of the above. And the answer is also: it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you participate.

Just as Janet and Brad, the normative embodiment of white, fifties, sexually-repressed youth culture, are taken in unwillingly by the occult-ish, mad-scientific bonanza that is Dr. Frank-N-Furter and his phalanx of diverse Dionysian lackeys, so too is the audience. Formal, silently-appreciative theater is turned on its head and fellated. (Oh, Brad!). The audience is stripped (almost literally) of their reservation and pulled straight into the raucous, rakish fun of Rocky Horror’s absurdity.

The show, in its movie form, shows us that everyone can and should pursue pleasure, as long as they’re given a little push. (By aliens?—I’ll avoid drawing conclusions about the show’s thematic underpinnings, because frankly, sometimes there just aren’t any.)

There’s a reason the show has drawn such a cult following, and why it has entranced audiences for decades, including, according to a 2015 New York Times article, David Bowie—a profound fan and participant in its London debut (as a musical) in 1973.

Rocky Horror Picture Show has been rebooted, tributed, referenced, and redone time warp after time warp.  (It’s really hard to ruin the Rocky Horror Picture Show). But when Hannah Lieberman 18’ and Brody McCurdy 20’ partnered with Davidson Arts & Creative Engagement (DACE) and Union Board to bring the show to Davidson, I was somewhat hesitant. If the show thrives on audience participation, would the “stressed-out,” “self-conscious,” stereotypical Davidson collegiate be able to let loose and get weird?

Well luckily enough, they were ready and willing—more than willing, I might add.

The room was packed to the rafters with students, some sporting a red “V” for “virgin” across their foreheads, an indicator that they’d never seen the musical before. Prop kits abounded, including a menagerie of projectiles for the audience to hurl at the actors as they lip-synced over the 1975 movie—a classic approach to doing Rocky’s cinematic history justice.

The night began with a call to arms by Lieberman, as Janet Weiss, to “throw s*** and participate and s***,” a perfect summation of all that Rocky Horror Show is: irreverent, hostile in its apathy, and backhanded in the best way. The pre-show started with an icebreaker (one which I hope they institute in classes in the future)—“if you were having sex with your arch-nemesis, how would you orgasm?”—and it “went down” from that point on.

The production quality of this “f*** your teacher double feature” was undoubtedly low-fi. Part of me thinks the students putting on the show deserved a bigger budget and part of me was entirely endeared by the fact that they could make so much out of so little. The show’s few props and slap-dash costuming instead paid homage to the sheer personality and charm that are Rocky Horror’s deepest appeal. There isn’t exactly much clothing to begin with, seeing as half the cast is half-naked for the majority of the show. (Kudos to Edward Pritchard ‘18, who played a spot-on Rocky in shockingly gold shorts, and to the rest of the cast for sheer lack of self-consciousness.)

The cast embodied all that Rocky Horror Picture Show is and were not shy about getting down, dirty, and unabashedly sexual. It was kitschy, grand, wonderfully weird, and completely satisfying.

From the color commentary read by alternating cast members, including Samuel Giberga ‘19 (doing a spot on impression of the narratorial “Criminologist”), to the jeers of an audience primed to get in on the joke, to Theo Ebarb ‘18’s compelling and hilarious take on Tim Curry’s original Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the show was disorganized in the most harmonious way. Tables fell, words were forgotten, and tights were ripped. It wasn’t orchestrated to perfection, but that’s the essence of Rocky. It isn’t supposed to make sense and look together—it’s supposed to engender a “what the hell is going on?” (quoted by the girl sitting next to me), in between bouts of hysterical laughter.

It takes the concept of being judged and critiqued as a performer and inverts it: the performers and the nature of the show itself conspire to judge, molest, and harass the audience. In this, Davidson’s rendition was by all means a tremendous success.

Though, the highlight for me personally had to be “Meat Loaf,” played by Lexi Di’Trapano ‘20, riding through the audience on a Razor scooter instead of a motorcycle before making out aggressively with Columbia, played by the talented Olivia Conley 20’.

The night ended with a standing ovation, and the collective sentiment that this show should become an annual Davidson tradition.

There have been a handful of Davidson moments that have made me feel this way. One was the Catfish Disco “secret” concert on 2nd floor F-lounge last year, where an overexcited and wholesomely belligerent young man yelled, “This is what college should be like all the time!” Rocky was another one of those moments. I leave it to the Davidson community to learn a lesson from the fine actress and actors of this production. Make more events like this—ones that take us out of our self-consciousness and force us to live, even for a second, outside of our cerebral lives. And most specifically, ones that make us want to “throw s*** and participate and s***.”

“Don’t just dream it,” kids, “be it!”

Theo Ebarb ‘18 strikes a pose as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the “transvestive from trans-sexual Transylvania.” Photo by Katie Walsh ’20

Katie Walsh ‘20 is a staff writer for Living Davidson. You can contact her with tips, story ideas, or information at kmwalsh@davidson.edu.