Earlier last week my thoughts turned to musicals and the polarised reactions they tend to provoke in people.
Maybe it’s because I recently watched Grease, the movie, for the umpteenth time and couldn’t help thinking that it might be fun to actually see the original, live version. Yes, I can be very cheesy in my tastes on occasion but really, who hasn’t done a bit of a whoop and a dance whenever a number like Greased Lightnin’ shows up on the air waves?
Or maybe it’s because a good friend, who appears to have considerably better taste than I do, was waxing lyrical about West Side Story – the whole waxing lyrical part happened out of the blue and, admittedly, came as a bit of a surprise. From experience, few straight men will admit outright that they enjoy a good musical.
But back to the topic at hand: musicals and the way they inspire extreme love/hate reactions. I have met people who are totally into theatre, music and dance but who will turn up their noses when all these elements are combined into one production. Somehow, the feeling is that musicals are “not quite highbrow enough”.
Which is all balderdash, of course, for the simple reason that not everything we see and enjoy needs to be highbrow in order to make it valid. And with this on my mind, onto my favourite musical ever from what I refer to as the ‘fun’ genre. The title of wackiest and wildest just has to go to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. So, if you’re still trying to get your Halloween celebrations in order, go get the DVD and thank me later.
I first watched Rocky Horror on telly, the 1975 Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon and Meatloaf version. I was hooked immediately. I mastered the Time Warp dance in under 15 minutes, much to the amusement of the long-suffering man in my life. The costumes, the decadence, the hilarious lines, the quasi-surreal characters… enjoying them once just wasn’t enough.
I had to re-take it all in with a double-bill (see what I did there, eh?). Years later, I was to watch the sanitised interpretation on Glee. Sadly, much as I have enjoyed many a Glee moment, this particular take didn’t quite mesh. The Rocky Horror vibe is so particular that sanitising it for a high-school audience just doesn’t work.
Rocky Horror is the ultimate group movie, as long as you choose the right sort of friends. You know, the sort who will not throw dirty looks in your direction if you decide to yell Dammit Janet at the oddest moments (health warning: you’re liable to punctuate your conversation with Dammit Janets for days after listening to this number).
The sort who won’t mind when you actually make them get up and dance, and when you celebrate Janet and Rocky’s, erm, liaison – rendered memorable by Sarandon’s rendition of Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me, one of the most effective, yet somehow poignant tracks in this musical – by squirting water all over them. Yes, it is the kind of movie/production that allows you to get away with being as silly as you like and this is precisely its allure.
There’s only one thing that beats watching Rocky Horror on television, and that is watching it as a live production, which I was lucky enough to experience here in Malta when Masquerade took the gutsy step of putting it up back in 2007. Because this is me we’re talking about, just showing up wasn’t enough. Nope. It had to be the whole hog, complete with wig and costume (I opted to go as Magenta), water pistols and rice.
In case you’re a Rocky Horror newbie (shame), etiquette demands that the audience take a more interactive approach than is the norm, throwing stuff around and bellowing comebacks at specific parts of the production.
The rules about how you should go about doing this are quite specific; it’s not (just) about being rowdy but about being a seamless part of the production.
As it happened, few people actually dressed the part, though I was told that for the premiere more effort was made.
However, it didn’t take the audience long to get the hang of it and 15 minutes into the show the interactive part was in full swing.
So there you have it, the idiot’s guide to throwing an awesome, adult Halloween ‘do’ at home with minimum effort.
An edited version of this column appeared on The Sunday Times.