‘Rocky Horror’ comes to Parkersburg
For those too old for trick-or-treating, there’s another treat in store this Halloween. For the first time ever, the Actors Guild of Parkersburg will be performing “The Rocky Horror Show” in all its eccentricities, premiering at the end of October.
Richard O’Brien’s British rock musical stage play was popularized by the bizarre and bawdy 1975 film version, starring Tim Curry as the Sweet Transvestite and introducing Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick as the all-American couple, Janet Weiss and Brad Majors. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” has since become the longest-running theatrical release in film history, still showing in theaters 36 years after its debut.
This cult classic has a new generation of followers thanks to midnight revival showings of the movie, a successful Broadway show, and a recent “Glee” episode, which was loosely based on the film.
Attempting to bring the show to new audiences is Chris Parsons, who will star as Frank-N-Furter in the AGP production of “Rocky Horror.” This 2004 Parkersburg South High School grad was introduced to acting his senior year of high school. His passion lay dormant his first two years of college at WVU-P but has since played an active role in his life.
Since graduating from WVU-P, Parsons has been a regular to the local theater scene. He landed the title role in the WVU-P production of “Tartuffe” in 2009. While involved with the Mid-Ohio Valley Players, he performed in “You Can’t Take it With You” and “Are You Being Served.” Last January Parsons joined the Actors Guild of Parkersburg.
“I’d built up the Actors Guild, so my first audition there (for “Leading Ladies”) was intimidating … the show ended up being one of the most fun things I’ve ever done,” Parsons said.
It was during his first AGP production when he met R.J. Lowe, currently the director of “Rocky Horror,” who, at the time, was playing one of the leads in the show. Even while performing in “Leading Ladies,” Lowe had ambitions to direct “Rocky Horror.”
“R.J. has been trying for 15 years to get the AGP to do ‘Rocky Horror,'” Parsons said. “He had thrown the idea out so many times, but I think a lot of people were too afraid to do it. The show splits people; for every five people who love it, three people hate it. Some think it’s too campy. And then there are those who said the original shouldn’t be trashed, that this was one of those originals you just shouldn’t touch.”
Parsons knew immediately that he wanted to be a part of a show.
“I’ve loved the movie since I first saw it four years ago. I knew I wanted to be a part of the AGP show, but I never thought I could or would ever get the role of Frank. But I wanted to … I showed up to be the narrator or Rocky – the characters who don’t have singing parts. Before the audition, I had never sung outside my car or shower. The only other time I’d been that nervous was when I proposed to my wife (who he met on “You Can’t Take It With You” and married earlier this year on the AGP stage) … Somehow I never seem to get the role I show up for, and I was given the role of Frank.”
“Rocky Horror” is Parson’s seventh play in the last two years-his third with the AGP, after “Leading Ladies” and “The Boys Next Door.” For an actor who is more a fan of classic Shakespearean plays, the role of Frank is different than anything he’s ever done before. Then again, is there a role that could prepare a man to portray an overtly sexual transvestite who dons 4-inch heels and women’s lingerie?
“I’m 6 feet 3 inches and with heels I’m about 6 feet 8 inches. I have a new respect for women for wearing heels like that. I didn’t think it would be that difficult … it’s all just part of the role. I feel like when people don’t want to look like an idiot, they look like an idiot. I had to learn to go for it, to let it all go and forget about being judged,” Parsons said.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for Parsons in playing the over-the-top Frank-N-Furter has been the responsibility of portraying such a well-known character.
“People have certain expectations when they think of Frank. I want to give that to people. At the same time, you don’t want to be a copy of the original. I learned that while playing Mr. Humphries on “Are You Being Served.” You have to meet people half way.”
Parsons believes that people know about “Rocky Horror” through its movie version and forget that Rocky Horror was intended as a play. The key difference between the two, according to Parsons, is the energy.
“I’ve always thought that the first half of the movie was fantastic and that the second half sort of falls apart for me. The play flows better. And there’s so much energy in the musical numbers. It’s more fun to watch as a live performance.”
Adding to the fun of the AGP show is the aspect of audience participation, which has always been an important part of RHPS history. For some, throwing toast when Frank calls for a toast or tossing rice at Brad and Janet’s wedding is the one way to see the show. The AGP will provide audience participation bags to encourage such involvement.
Rocky Horror has 12 scheduled performances, though depending on pre-sale tickets, there could be more. While ticket reservations usually begin 10 days before the opening show at the AGP, tickets, including those for limited onstage seating and midnight showings, are on sale now.
Parsons believes the show is an exciting opportunity for locals – and one that may not come again.
“There’s really no show like this. It’s had a 35-year career, several of those as the Broadway show. “Rocky Horror” truly transcends time. Not a lot of shows can say that. I don’t know that people will have another chance to see the show in Parkersburg.”