The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s the cult classic beloved across the world, the ultimate midnight movie and the last musical anyone would expect to get the “major network treatment.”
Over the last couple of years, there has been an onslaught of “family-friendly” live musicals produced on network television, from The Wiz and the critically-panned Peter Pan on NBC to a more well-received Grease:Live! on Fox. So when the news broke that Fox was making a remake of Rocky Horror, many fans shuddered at the idea—yours truly included.
The idea of taking such an iconic cult film and adapting it for a network television remake (which will most-definitely include some sort of content changes to make it “acceptable” for network) is something fans are very wary about. This is a musical heavily tinged in sexuality all across the gender binary whose main character is a cross-dressing alien; The Sound of Music it is not.
So why do it? Out of the catalog of musicals that could’ve been chosen, why choose this one? To understand why, you need to understand Rocky Horror.
Calling it a cult phenomenon is putting it lightly. It is the longest-running film in history as it has been playing somewhere in theaters since it’s release in 1975, with its popularity only growing, thanks to the internet, new generations and its midnight audience-participation screenings. It’s even crossed into the mainstream, inspiring everything from an episode of Glee, a viral Doctor Who mashup for the ages and now this network reimagining.
But what is it about Rocky Horror that has been entrancing audiences since it’s release some 40 years ago? Why has it reached this cult status? The answer is this—its audience.
Anyone can tell you that for anything to truly succeed in entertainment, it needs a dedicated audience. When the movie premiered in 1975, it was more-or-less a commercial and critical flop. However, it had fans from day one that returned to theaters day-in and day-out. And the love those fans had for film took it from being just a bunch of moving pictures on a screen to an interactive experience for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider in need of a mode of expression, thus directly connecting with the aliens on screen.
The time of its release was also crucial. Released in the wake of the sexual revolutions of the 60s and 70s, people on and off the binary enjoyed seeing a film where the idea of a freedom in sexuality could be freely enjoyed. This freedom is made especially evident in the change Brad and Janet go through as they experiment and lose their sexual rigidity throughout the movie, calling attention to the changing of social mores in society.
But when it comes down to it, it’s not the sexual freedom exhibited that has made Rocky Horror endure, it’s only a part of it. What it’s really about is the community it established. By fans creating this live experience – memorizing lines, creating dances, bringing in props, inventing a responsive script – they created a community that was not only fun but inclusive and accepting of anyone and everyone who just wanted to have fun.
And as we, today, become a more inclusive and accepting society, when you take a step back and think about it, it actually makes perfect sense that this would be the musical adapted for a current audience. But, like any original anything that is ever touched, it’s understandable why the passionate fans of Rocky Horror are skeptical about a remake of their beloved musical.
However, the cast and crew of this new adaptation insist that they don’t want to change what makes the musical so great, they want to honor it. Lou Adler, who co-produced the original 1975 version and is producing this rendition alongside Gail Berman and famed choreographer Kenny Ortega, said at a press event for the show that the goal is to “be true to the original, but make it contemporary.”
At the same event, members of the cast stressed that this adaptation is just that – an adaptation not a remake. Ben Vereen, who is playing Dr. Scott in the live musical, said, “To me, this is not a remake. You cannot remake the Rocky Horror Picture Show. But you can pay tribute and honor it. That’s what we wanted to do and we accomplished.”
Many cast members have also stated that they have been long time Rocky Horror fans, including Laverne Cox, Ryan McCartan and Victoria Justice, who play Dr. Frank-N-Furter, Brad and Janet respectively. In fact, Justice said that the thing she is most excited about this adaptation is being able to (hopefully) bring new fans to the musical. “I think it’s going to be really cool to introduce the Rocky Horror Picture Show to a brand new generation who probably wouldn’t have been otherwise,” said Justice. “Now a new generation is going to be able to sing along to the Time Warp.”
And isn’t that what Rocky Horror is about? For what it’s worth, it seems that all who are involved in this new rendition of Rocky Horror are really just fans at heart who want to do what every Rocky fan wants to do – have fun and share the awesomeness of this musical. And as long as new audience’s continue to discover the magic that is The Rocky Horror Picture Show —whether it be through the original or this new incarnation of it—Rocky Horror will never die.