'Rocky Horror' still entertaining audiences decades later

- When "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" premiered in 1975, it had a song on its lips and in its heart. But more than four decades later, the gender-bending, cross-dressing, rock opera has become the ultimate cult classic, still going strong after 40 years.

"It's really not a great movie, but when you can enjoy it with everyone else, it makes it a great experience," said Tom Swanson, who plays Dr. Frank-N-Furter in the current shadow cast at the Uptown Theater.

At first, the movie about a newly engaged couple who get stranded in the middle of nowhere and taken in by a mad scientist alien transvestite got a rocky reception from critics.

But after audiences in New York started dressing as the characters and talking back to the screen, it became the original "midnight movie" and spread to the rest of the country.

"It was just one of those movies that had a cult following. This neighborhood at that time was artsy," Uptown Theater Assistant Manager Rich Gill said.

The "Rocky Horror Picture Show" debuted at the Uptown Theater in 1978, where it played continuously for nearly 20 years.

Like in other parts of the country, a shadow cast would act out the scenes on stage in front of the movie while 
audience members would bring their own props, like rice, candles, and newspapers and water guns to use during the performance.

"You weren't just coming to watch a movie. You were a part of it," Gill said.

Jeremy Stomberg joined the shadow cast at the Uptown in the early '90s when the Friday and Saturday night showings became a right of passage for a generation of outsiders who saw themselves in the characters on the silver screen.

"There were a lot of people who had different orientations than I was used to," Stomberg said.

Even though the movie ended its run at the Uptown in 1997, the theater brought it back 12 years later, where it's been discovered by a new wave of fans.

"Every single month, we ask how many have seen it before and every month a third to a half are brand new," current shadow cast director Brian Watson-Jones said.

For some, like Breeann Wilkes, it has been a life-changing experience. She met and fell in love with her husband as part of the cast. And of course they did the time warp at their wedding reception.

"Rocky is such a good show for people to come to and say, 'Hey it doesn't matter. Size. Shape. Gender.' It supports everyone. So much love at the shows and it's great to be a part of it," Wilkes said.

While for others, like Tom Swanson, dressing up as Dr. Frank-N-Furter has shown him clothes do make the man.

"I love performing on stage. I like playing with gender identity and that's one of the reasons I keep coming back," said Swanson.

Over the last 40 years, plenty of movies have come and gone.

But you don't have to be a mad scientist to see "The Rocky Horror Picture Show's" time isn't over quite yet.

"For some reason, culture hasn't gotten hasn't gotten its fill of "Rocky Horror Picture Show," Watson-Jones said.

Rocky Horror still plays on the last Saturday of every month at the Uptown Theater, except for Halloween when it will run both Friday and Saturday nights.

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