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Rockin' the Rocky Horror Picture Show

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Photo by Jim Brett Cooper Woods-Darby, front, stars as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in the recent Paradise Theatre shadow-cast production of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. The remainder of the cast, back row, from left: Heidi Hall, Jerry Hart, Kate Cerridwen, Ayla

A lot of great movies came out in the 1970s, but "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" wasn't one of them.

"It's a terrible movie, but it's so funny," said Steve Allen, of Hotchkiss, a fan whose first experience of the cult classic was with wife Sunshine Knight on their wedding anniversary.

RHPS is based on "The Rocky Horror Show," a 1973 musical by Richard O'Brien that mocks bad "B-grade" science fiction movies of the early to mid 20th century (think classics like "Frankenstein" and "It Came From Outer Space"). Its weak plot has newly-engaged couple Brad and Janet getting stuck during a drive through the countryside on a dark and rainy night. They seek help at a nearby castle they happened to pass earlier. The castle belongs to Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a transvestite space alien based loosely on Baron Victor Von Frankenstein.

It's "a rather special night," says his creepy assistant, Riff Raff, one of many questionable characters they meet. And the plot goes downhill from there.

The 20th Century Fox musical debuted in London in 1975. "When it came out, it really flopped," said Allen.

The reviews were horrible. It was so bad that the audience began booing at the bad guys, cheering for the good guys, and ad-libbing lines into the script. They dressed in costume and danced to songs including "Let's Do the Time Warp Again," the most well-known song to come out of the musical. First-time viewers were labeled "virgins" and branded with a big red lipstick "V" on their foreheads. Soon people were going to the show just to see what the audience would do.

Knight is general manager of the Paradise Theatre in Paonia and a big fan of the show. She brought RHPS to the Paradise last year as a shadow cast performance, where actors play out select scenes on stage as the movie rolls. Because she and Steve are "big Halloween fans," the show was scheduled for Halloween weekend.

Knight said she barely pulled a cast together and they had just two weeks to rehearse. "It more than sold out," said Knight, who directs and emcees the production. "People came from all over the Western Slope: Glenwood Springs, Montrose, Grand Junction, Carbondale."

This year she scheduled two shows. The casting call went out in August, and the response was huge. By the first week of September a cast of all new performers was set.

"This cast is very dedicated," said Knight. "The level of professionalism just went through the roof."

On closing night the cast is crammed into a tiny backstage dressing room for make-up and costume checks. There are no lines to rehearse, but back stage is hectic just the same. "Everyone made their own costumes," says Lenore Cambria, one of two actors to play Columbia, a tap-dancing servant to the doctor. She is dressed in a shimmering sequined outfit and stands in the hallway warming up for her one big kick.

Cambria is a local professional director, actor, teacher and tap dance instructor. All of the actors are very professional, she says. "And they are all perfect for their roles."

Cooper Woods-Darby cuts a striking figure as the star, the flamboyant transvestite Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Well over six feet tall before he slips into a pair of platform shoes, Woods-Darby said he knew after watching last year's show that he could play the part even better. "It's kind of a vain thing to say," he says humbly. Over the years he's had a few community theater roles: Charlie Brown's Schroeder, Perchik in "Fiddler on the Roof." In considering them all, "This is the one I'm most suited for."

Arthur Harriman plays Rocky, a creation of Dr. Frank-N-Furter whom he describes as "a perfect, muscle-built man." Harriman wanted the part so much that he came to the audition in costume -- a pair of shimmering gold underwear he made just for the audition. "I wanted them to know I was interested," said Harriman.

Tony Soto plays Riff Raff, "the sexy, scary space alien butler" to Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Soto is a theatre major who played Brad and Frank-N-Furter in Front Range shadow cast performances. But that was some 20 years ago, he says. Soto was moving from Denver to Paonia when he saw the audition call on Facebook. He auditioned over Facetime from Denver. Being in the show, he said, was a great way to "jump in and get to know the community."

Alicia Humphrey is Magenta, the "Bride of Frankenstein" of the show. Ayla Bristow, Carrie Soto, Angela Kemp and Kate Cerridwen play the singing/dancing Transylvanians, and Heidi Hall tap-danced her way through the role of Columbia on opening night.

Taya Jae plays Janet, who begins the movie as a giggly, virtuous ingénue originally played by Susan Sarandon. "I've been watching as many Susan Sarandon movies as possible just to channel her," said Jae. "That's a big role to live up to."

Jerry Hart plays Brad Majors, originally played by Barry Bostwick. Minutes before the show begins he's 100 percent in character. "My name's Brad Majors and this is my fiancé, Janet Weiss," says Hart dryly as Jae giggles.

Steve Allen is perfect as Eddie, a saxophone-playing, motorcycle riding bad guy originally played by rock 'n' roll artist Meatloaf. "Eddie was made before Rocky, then Frank split Eddie's brain and made Rocky," says Allen. His part is big, but very short-lived.

Leah Morris operates the spotlight. Her biggest challenge is in keeping the spotlight off the screen and on the actors.

Morris remembers first seeing RHPS as a teenager living with a host family in Munich, Germany. One of the host family members asked her if she's ever seen it. "I had no idea what she was talking about," said Morris. After attending a love parade in Berlin she went to the theater and couldn't believe what she was seeing. "I was like, OK, the world has opened up to me," she said.

Bernie Canape, the face-painting Cherry Days "Cherry Fairy" does the stage make-up and is a huge fan of this cast. Canape first saw RHPS at a midnight showing in 1975. "It was so over the top and so queer," she said. "I thought it was hilarious."

RHPS is rated "R" for its adult content, but there's no foul language or nudity. Actors playing main characters must be 18 or older to audition. And while it might sound bizarre, RHPS is simply people cutting loose for an hour and a half and having good clean fun. As they do across the globe, audience members come dressed in audacious costumes, use props, and ad lib lines into the script. Two audience members got to play a part in the opening wedding scene after winning a contest of all the "virgins" that involved Twizzlers red licorice.

It's the audience, after all, that has allowed RHPS to remain among the biggest of the cult classics, in line with "The Big Lebowski," "Pulp Fiction" and "Little Shop of Horrors." Some people boast seeing the show hundreds and even thousands of times.

RHPS is also, arguably, the first "midnight" cult films. But this is the North Fork Valley, says Knight. She scheduled the show to begin at 10 p.m. so people could get home at a reasonable hour. "That's late enough for our little valley," she said.

Knight said she plans to bring the show back to the Paradise next October.

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