Film and TV

As Rocky Horror Turns Forty, the Show Must Go On...and On

In the fall of 1991, Jennifer “JP” McPherson was putting on her makeup and rounding up the Transylvanians for their midnight production at <em>The Rocky Horror Picture Show</em> at the Esquire Theatre. She was the cast manager for the troupe and was about to take the stage as a very pregnant Magenta, a role she had been playing since 1987.

McPherson took a few minutes to talk with Westword about how great it was that <em>Rocky Horror</em> show had continued for so many years after the film's 1975 release, and said she hoped it would stick around long enough for her to take her kids to it someday. Well, the movie is celebrating its fortieth birthday this year, and McPherson is planning on bringing her two children to see the Denver show in December. “<em>Rocky Horror</em> brought a little of the flamboyance of the New York and L.A. scenes to Colorado,” McPherson remembers today. “People could feel free to dress up, get crazy, and be who they were, even if it was only for one night a week. It got kids from the suburbs, like me, exposed to people with other lifestyle choices.”

After seeing her first <em>Rocky Horror Picture Show</em> extravaganza in the '80s, McPherson stuck around to talk to the cast until early in the morning. Although she'd just met them, she says she knew she had “found her clan.” By the end of her <em>Rocky</em> tenure, McPherson had performed at least 200 shows.

Nicholas Wilcox, the current Rocky Horror for the Colorado’s Elusive Ingredient cast, knows how with McPherson feels. A community forms at those midnight shows, he says, and over the years that small community has expanded. At this point, it's not a crew of misfits anymore — partly because of the longevity of the <em>Rocky Horror Picture Show</em>. “We used to be like an island of misfit toys that are bundled together and supported each other until we weren’t broken anymore,” Wilcox says. “Now we have a platform to say, 'This is how we feel, this is why we were broken,' and we allow people to transform into who they want to be. I stress to all of my cast members at all times that we have a stage, and that this is one of the most powerful things you can give a person. Look what it’s done for us.”

According to Tom Finch, who has been playing Dr. Scott for twenty years with Colorado’s Elusive Ingredient, the <em>Rocky Horror</em> community is big even off the stage, and not just in Denver. “I was on the East Coast and a big storm really messed up my transportation, so I missed my flight in Baltimore,” Finch explains. “I made one phone call to a <em></em>Rocky fanatic in New Jersey that I knew from conventions to ask if he could help me out. Thirty minutes later a complete stranger who turned out to be a local cast member picked me up at the airport, put me up for the night and drove me back to the airport the next day. It’s just amazing the networking and nationwide movement that has become <em>Rocky<em>’s development.”

Colorado’s Elusive Ingredient is gearing up for four Halloween shows in Denver and Boulder in the next week, as well as the upcoming celebration of <em>Rocky Horror</em>’s fortieth anniversary. But current cast manager Andrew Altman says that since the film's release, there has never been an extended period of time without a live production in Denver. The Esquire and the Boulder Theater have been particularly instrumental in keeping the <em>Rocky Horror</em> movement alive, he adds.

“The Boulder Theater folks are amazing and have gone through amazing lengths to accommodate this nonsense,” Altman says. “Never have I had a group of techies from the venue that become incorporated into the show. Usually the guys have never seen us or <em>Rocky Horror</em> before, but once the techie gets the feel for what we do, he fucks with the lights all through the shows as it feels appropriate to him. It’s the same way a jazz musician might riff.”

Colorado’s Elusive Ingredient's <em>Rocky Horror</em> four Halloween shows start Saturday, October 24, with a Tim Burton-themed production at the Esquire Theatre; the first Boulder Theater Halloween show is Sunday, October 25. To purchase tickets, visit . 
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Lauren Archuletta is a contributor for Westword's arts section, covering Denver's health and wellness scene. Follow her work for tips on cheap workouts and which yoga classes include mimosas and beer.