For the past two weeks, the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium parking lot in Hilo was transformed into an outdoor playhouse of sorts as the Hilo Community Players (HCP) offered a six-show run of the cult classic Rocky Horror Show – Richard O’Brien’s celebrated pansexual rock musical. There were plans to present it last year, but it was postponed due to the pandemic.
Keeping safety protocols in place, this year’s two-hour presentation was offered in a drive-in style setting with a top-notch six-piece band and a six-foot-high stage, tall enough for all to see over cars.
If you’ve never seen one of the midnight showings of the 1975 movie, a big component is audience involvement, and HCP kept that tradition alive. After arriving cars were directed to designated spaces, an announcement was made to the audience to view the digital playbill on their phones for participation tips. These included rude heckles when a cast member said a specific line, flashing headlights for applause, hurling toilet paper in the air, and shooting squirt guns during the rainstorm scene. If you forgot to bring your props, participation kits were available for purchase.
In our interview, Dr. Rachel Klein, president of HCP and the musical’s director/producer, noted that the performances offered a relevant and vital message. “That message is about self-expression, inclusivity and being who you want to be and living the way you want to live. So, we felt now was a good time to remind everyone that they’re perfect exactly as they are.” To quote a line from the musical – “Don’t’ dream it, be it.”
The plot centers around Brad and Janet (Moses Lee and Kate Curtis), a newly engaged couple with an unfortunate flat tire on a stormy night. Rolling in on a rim and a prayer, the young love birds take refuge in a nearby castle. Upon arrival, they are greeted by the dark and sinister Riff Raff (Alex Williamson), who takes them to meet Dr. Frank N. Furter (David Greene), a cross-dressing mad scientist. Furter has been busy “making a man, with blonde hair and a tan” called Rocky Horror (Byron Karr). After spending the night, and all the madness that ensues, Brad and Janet lose their innocence.
The intentional campy plot is a musical parody of the haunted-castle horror movie genre, but with a twist. For newcomers, the innuendo-laden script and outrageously risqué outfits may have startled some, although the distance from the stage to the first row of cars made it hard to see some of the finer costume details.
The cast offered many crowd-pleasing performances, including the show’s narrator Saul Rollason who kept the audience engaged. Choreographer Nadia Schlosser collaborated well with the numerous costume designers involved. Dancing in high heels and tight-fitting corsets must have been a challenge on a compact stage, but they seemed to pull it off with ease.
There were several song favorites that rallied the audience, like “The Time Warp” and “Sweet Transvestite.” When cast member Eddie (Theon Weber) drove through the parking lot on a noisy Harley to join the ensemble on “Hot Patootie (Bless My Soul) What Ever Happened to Saturday Night,” it felt like a wild throwback to the 1950s.
While not all the Big Island’s performance venues are offering full capacity events, this outdoor presentation of the Rocky Horror Show was a welcomed party for an audience with pent-up energy after over a year of uncertainty and lockdowns.
HCP is planning to return next year with its annual presentation of Shakespeare in the Park.
Notes and Links
Performance date: 29/OCT/2021
Musicians: Lauren Brodio (guitar), Junko Nozawa (bass), Kanako Okita (keyboard), Heather Sexton (saxophone), Zach Var (drums), Cathy Young (synthesizer), Rachel Edwards (conductor).
All photos by Steve Roby.
About the author: Steve Roby is a music journalist, bestselling author, and editor of Big Island Music.