Can Fox’s Rocky Horror Reboot Possibly Be Any Good?

We ask local Rocky Horror expert (and WXPN producer) Robert Drake.

Robert Drake (center) with members of TNP, a Rocky Horror shadow cast. (Photo by InFlux Photography)

Robert Drake (center) with members of TNP, a Rocky Horror shadow cast. (Photo by InFlux Photography)

On Thursday night, Fox is set to debut its television musical version of legendary cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the reviewers who have seen screeners don’t have very many good things to say about it. We decided to ask local Rocky Horror buff (and WXPN producer, local DJ, and hobby meteorologist) Robert Drake for his predictions. Drake has been doing the Time Warp really hard ever since the movie’s release in 1975, when he was a student at George Washington High School.

I can’t imagine that big Rocky Horror fans have high hopes about this TV version. How are you feeling about it?
Well, it’s cool in the sense that it will introduce Rocky Horror to a whole new group of eyes. That part is kind of cool. But then you have the commercialization of a film that should never have been commercialized.

And there’s also been a lot of interesting conversation and backlash regarding the actress playing Frank-N-Furter: Laverne Cox. She’s the transgender woman who was on the cover of Time magazine. But the role of Frank-N-Furter is a man who is a transvestite. He is a male who dresses in women’s clothing and loves females. That’s the entire premise of the movie. To have a transgender woman play a man who is a transvestite is a little cloudy. I don’t personally have a problem with it, but people are talking about it. I try not to look too deep.

You seem like a man obsessed with Rocky Horror. How did that begin?
I was kind of an outside kid in high school. I didn’t really connect with the kids in school. So whenever I had time, I would take the El downtown from Northeast Philly and hang out at punk clubs and other scenes in the city, and of course a magnet for many under 21 was the Theater of Living Arts, where they showed a midnight screening of Rocky Horror that became a tradition for many kids.

In the late ’70s, this was probably the only real outlet for the gay community under 21. There wasn’t a gay community center at the time. The community itself was only in the first few years of development. Everything was fresh and new. The bar scene was just starting to blossom. And there wasn’t much for a gay kid to do. Rocky Horror attracted everyone left-of-center, and those screenings became a gay youth group of sorts.

I don’t think my parents would have let me hang out on South Street at 2 in the morning when I was a teenager. In fact, I know they wouldn’t.
Well, it was technically past the city’s curfew, but the rule of thumb in the ’70s was that if you had the balls to be down in the city after midnight, the city wouldn’t interfere.

You’ve probably seen Rocky Horror a million times. I’ve seen it twice, I think. It’s just not very good.
Well, I’m the first to say that if you watch it at home by yourself, it is a C+ at best. You have to watch it with a group of people. What makes the movie is the interaction with the audience. People yelling at the screen. If you’re lucky, a shadow cast of performers up front. You’ve gotta watch it with friends.

It’s kind of like doing acid in that sense.
Yes, you definitely want to do it with someone who has done it before.

OK, back up a second. You mentioned the shadow cast. Please explain for people who don’t have a clue what that is.
These are groups of fans who literally perform the movie in front of the screen. They’re lip-syncing and mimicking what’s happening on screen. One of the best ones around is Philly’s TNP, which stands for Transylvanian Nipple Productions. A good shadow cast will tweak its production to make it a little more risqué than the film.

And then you have the audience yelling all sorts of lines. A lot of people bring props. There are costumes. The movie becomes the backdrop to everything else. It’s a cacophony of live performance art that just happens to have a movie going behind it.

With Halloween coming up, I’m guessing we have some chances to see the movie the way it is supposed to be seen.
On Friday, the Keswick is showing the movie, and Barry Bostwick, who played Brad, will be there to do a Q&A. Then on October 29th, I’ll be hosting a free screening on South Street as the cap of the huge South Street PumpkinFest. And the Ritz at the Bourse is still doing midnight screenings, sometimes with TNP.

The big thing I’m working on will be on May 6th next year. South Street has a Spring Festival with close to 50,000 people, and we’re going to close off the whole 300 block of South Street to do a record-setting version of the Time Warp right in front of the TLA.

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