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The 'Time Warp' Returns to SCT with Their Revival of "The Rocky Horror Show"

(Poster design courtesy Springfield Contemporary Theatre)

Let’s do the Time Warp again! Richard O'Brien's cult favorite, "The Rocky Horror Show," Springfield Contemporary Theatre’s top-selling show, is back--as if for the first time—in a production directed by Nathan Shelton at SCT Center Stage in Wilhoit Plaza.

Actually, it does the show a disservice by calling it a “cult” anything—“Rocky Horror” may not be mainstream, but it’s close.  And as Nathan Shelton says, “what better way to open a lovely Halloween show” than on Friday the 13th?  “It’s the movie version (with Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick) that brings people to the show, but the stage show has so many things that the movie doesn’t have.  It has all the songs, all the characters that you love, but then it has so much more. And our version has a lot of video involved in it—not from the film, but original content that goes hand in hand with it.  Because movies are so much a part of this story.”  Both the original stage show and the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” are over-the-top tributes to mid-20th century sci-fi and horror B-movies. 

This is Shelton’s second time directing the production—the first run was Springfield Contemporary Theatre’s top-selling show--and he says he “wanted to take it in a new direction this time.  And we have such a wonderful, intimate house now. Center Stage is an 87-seat house. So you are VERY immersed in Rocky Horror this time.”  And the venue’s 3-quarter “thrust” stage just accentuates that.

After a flat tire has them stuck in a storm, sweethearts Brad and Janet come upon the eerie mansion of Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Once inside, a houseful of colorful characters take the couple on a bizarre sex, drugs and rock n’ roll journey.

Playing Janet is Carolyn Billingsley. “Janet starts out as sort of the perfect ‘50s housewife (type)”—though she and Brad aren’t married yet, just engaged. “And then there is a crazy turn of events, and they end up at Frank’s house. (Janet) does a complete 180 and she’s the exact opposite of how she starts the show.  And I think one thing that I’m super proud of is, the most important thing to us is conveying the story. It’s no secret that Rocky Horror can be hard to understand, and so we’ve done everything we can to help the audience—and have the audience help us, tell the story, while still having fun at the forefront of our minds.”

Rocky Horror has evolved over the years into a show that not only encourages, but virtually requires, audience participation... the rice-throwing, the toast-throwing, sheltering your head from the rain with a newspaper, calling back at the characters, and all the rest of it. “For the health and safety of cast and audience,” says the show’s press release, SCT will NOT allow audience members to bring their own “outside participation props”—you must use the ones that they’ll be selling in the lobby. Says Nathan Shelton, “We sell prop kits--we’ve put together some really, really fun kits for everybody.” It actually didn’t start with the original 1975 stage production—but soon thereafter.  “That’s something that happened when the movie came out (it was released the same year, 1975, as the debut of the stage show), and it started to become the ‘Midnight Movie’ cult classic that it has become.  At our final dress rehearsal (Thursday night) we had some folks in from Kansas City, from a group called Play It Again, Rocky.  They do reviews of Rocky all over the Midwest.  And they came out, sat in the audience, really had a great time. And they were doing call-backs to the cast, yelling things out. And it really livened up the show.”

While there are a number of “standard” bits in which the audience traditionally participates, it’s not necessary to have any “experience” in order to enjoy a Rocky Horror performance. “It’s so inclusive,” says Nathan Shelton. “That’s one of the unique things about the culture that has popped up around Rocky Horror: as immersive as they (the show’s hardcore fans) all are with each other, and collaborative—they all know these things—they are very open to letting other people in. And these ‘call-backs’ allow people into the story and to have more fun with it in different ways than they would just going to see a traditional show, where you go and you sit and you watch something performed for you.  This, really, is at the heart of what Springfield Contemporary Theatre is all about—it’s very immersive theater. And this is right in line with what we do. And it’s a thrust stage, 3-quarters, so you are sitting around the actors, and the actors are coming through the audience. We have ‘phantoms’ interacting with you... we might pull you up and have you do ‘The Time Warp’ with us!”

There’s a cast of 16 in this production, several of whom have previous Rocky Horror experience.  In addition to Carolyn Billingsley as Janet, the show’s choreographer Vince Miller plays Brad—and he was Rocky in Nathan Shelton’s previous SCT production seven years ago; Frank-N-Furter is played by Ran Cummings; Heath Hillhouse is the narrator—he played Frank-N-Furter in the previous SCT production. This new version has a female Riff-Raff in Ellen Spann.

Performances will be Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm Oct.13-29 at SCT Center Stage in Wilhoit Plaza. Tickets range from $12 to $30. For information call 831-8001 or visit

Randy Stewart joined the full-time KSMU staff in June 1978 after working part-time as a student announcer/producer for two years. His job has evolved from Music Director in the early days to encompassing production of a wide range of arts-related programming and features for KSMU, including the online and Friday morning Arts News. Stewart assists volunteer producers John Darkhorse (Route 66 Blues Express), Lee Worman (The Gold Ring), and Emily Higgins (The Mulberry Tree) with the production of their programs. He's also become the de facto "Voice of KSMU" in recent years due to the many hours per day he’s heard doing local station breaks. Stewart’s record of service on behalf of the Springfield arts community earned him the Springfield Regional Arts Council's Ozzie Award in 2006.