Wicked + Rocky Horror Picture Show: The combination is raunchy, wacky and charitable
Outside of maybe The Sound of Music, it would be hard to imagine a musical as far across the genre spectrum from the Rocky Horror Picture Show as Wicked. So when musical director Julian Yarcho decided to merge the two in tonight's charity fundraiser, when the company of Wicked will take on the sweet transvestite cult classic at the Ogden Theatre, the cast and crew were surprised -- to say the least. Still, all hands will be on deck on the Ogden, though many of them have changed places: Dancers are now choreographers, orchestra members are singers and crew members are cast members. To allow forty artists a raunchy run onstage, the show splits its talent across halves: Brad and Janet One and Brad and Janet Two, and double the Dr. Frank-N-Furter.
In preparation for the company's onstage experiment, we sat down with Wicked ensemble member Tim Fitz-Gerald (now Rocky Horror's director) and Luis Figueroa (who plays one Dr. Frank-N-Furter) about the transition from family-friendly to overtly sexy. (Spoiler: They might need a "Time Warp" to get it all done.)
Westword: This show presents a huge change from the company's traditional charity efforts of silent auctions and rock reviews. What was your first reaction to the new plan?
Tim Fitz-Gerald: I was thrilled for a few reasons: The first is that I know the show very well. I actually did a small production in Los Angeles in 1998 and 1999 where I played Brad, so the show has a very special place in my heart. I was really close with that cast. Also, because I knew it so well, when I saw the sign-up sheet on our message board, we had to say what we wanted to do and I put up that I'd maybe be interested in directing. This is actually one of my first moves into directing. I've been a professional actor since I graduated college in 1997, and I've been able to carve out a pretty good career in acting, and it's only been recently that I've wanted to get into directing and teaching it to young people specifically.
How does the experience differ from your time in Wicked?
Luis Figueroa: Night and day, to be honest with you. In Wicked, I'm a plethora of different characters from one of the students in the flashback scene to a tough guard, then all of a sudden I'm Dr. Frank-N-Furter, which I don't even know how to describe what he is. Eccentric comes to mind. It's literally out of this world. The organizers thought I'd be perfect for the role -- I don't know if it's a compliment or an insult about my personality. Splitting the show in two parts also makes it easier. It's incredible to get to do something different from the show we work on eight times a week.
It's kind of opened this whole world of character actors for me. They teach you in school that you can't judge the character as soon as you start reading a script. The moment you do, you've put yourself in a pigeonhole. Rocky Horror is a production I can't even imagine doing: You see the movie with Tim Curry, and he's genius. He's immortalized. Reading the script the first night, I wondered, "What the hell am I getting myself into? How am I going to live up to the name of the character?" I went back to the basics of acting and thought, "Okay, what is it the character wants?" It gave leeway to think outside of the box and try to create this character that is so outside of this world but still truthful and real.
How do you balance Rocky Horror practice with your Wicked schedule?
Fitz-Gerald: Jason was smart enough to start the planning process early because we have to work around our Wicked performance, so a lot of times it's just a matter of pulling people in for 30 minutes here, 45 minutes there. We're treating it like it's a full-time production, which is what I asked of them in the beginning. I said if this was going to be something special, we have to act like it's our traditional job.
One of the things I believe about the show, and I expressed this early on to the entire staff, is that as crazy and campy and silly as it all is, anytime you do theater it has to be rooted in some form of truth. If you get caught up in just the campiness and the silliness, it will be fun but won't mean anything in the end. I encouraged everyone to be as crazy as possible but to think of their characters as real people. There's a really beautiful story at the heart of the story. We encourage people not to look past that.
What are your favorite moments in Rocky Horror?
Figueroa: I think my favorite moment is the last song I sing in act one, which is a reprise of "Make You a Man." For the past week, I'll wake up at three or four in the morning with a song in my head and be like, "That's what that means! Aha!" He's tried so hard to make this perfect man, and you can see in that moment how much it matters to him and that he's kind of already achieved what he wanted.
Fitz-Gerald: I'm sure this is true any time someone directs project, but to see what happens when they take your work and make it real. We did our first kind of stumble run-through in Portland, our last city, and it was the first time we had worked on it as a whole. There's a song in act two called "Once in a While" that Brad sings, and it's kind of just forgotten. It's the only one they cut out of the movie and left in the musical. It's not campy. It's a pretty ballad about whether to stay with the person you love. An actor named Justin Brill (plays Boq) is playing him in act two, and it was the first time I had seen him sing that song in context, and it was really special moment.
Are there any internal giveaways that this is the cast of Wicked onstage?
Fitz-Gerald: Not really. When I started thinking about how to put the show on, I didn't restrict my thinking in any way based on the fact that we are the Wicked show. It's hard to find two shows more different. When we're doing Wicked, we're all very conscious that parents bring their children every night, sometimes more than once, and we had to worry about it less this time. It was more comfortable and casual and kind of wacky.
I will say that there is one special moment in the show that pays homage to Wicked. But I won't tell you what it is.
Wicked Rocky Horror Show tickets cost $35 to $100, and all net proceeds benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and Project Angel Heart. (Show a student ID at the box office and you can get general admission tickets for $22 -- limit two per ID, and based on availability). For more information, call 303-832-1874 or visit ogdentheatre.net.