Sunday, April 21, 2013

Friday Dance Party: Tell Us About It, Janet

Is it depressing to learn that Tim Curry is approaching 70?  Well, I guess we're ALL approaching 70, but Tim is pretty darn close, and got closer Friday, when he turned 67.
This guy's approaching 70 now? Time to do the Time Warp.
I can't claim that Tim Curry is a particular favorite of mine, but I surely admire his tenacity.  He's had a pretty long career on stage and on film, and has no intention of retiring any time soon. 
I imagine at some point in the future, the Tim Curry/Bernadette Peters/Carol Burnett version of "Easy Street" will show up on the Dance Party.  It's clearly a favorite show tune of mine, having appeared here with the great Dorothy Loudon, and here with the great Alan Cumming.  But the truth is, just about everything in this film version of Annie fails, including this number. So this version will have to wait.
Within the past year, Tim's become attached to a new Eric Idle musical called What About Dick, which had a highly publicized concert reading in Los Angeles.  Tim, of course, has history with Idle, as he headlined the original Broadway and London productions of Spamalot.

As Spamalot's King Arthur, Tim (center) earned a Tony nomination.  His costar Hank Azaria (far left) was also nominated; they both lost the award to Norbert Leo Butz in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.  Always look on the bright side of life!

Curry's previous Broadway appearances include a fascinating one, at least to me.  The film version of Amadeus is a masterful example of stage-to-screen adaptation, and the performances in it can't be beat.  I simply cannot see anyone else but Tom Hulce in the role of Mozart, but astonishingly, Tim Curry originated the role on Broadway. 
Curry as Broadway's Amadeus, opposite Ian McKellan.
I'd give a lot to have seen that performance, which was nominated for a Tony (Tim lost the award to his costar Ian McKellan, playing Salieri.  In an instance of history repeating itself, when the film was released, Hulce playing Mozart lost his Oscar to the actor playing his Salieri, F. Murray Abraham).
When My Favorite Year became a musical,
Curry took Peter O'Toole's role, modeled
on Sid Caesar. Another Tony loss followed,
this one to Brent Carver in Kiss of the
Spider Woman.

But back to birthday boy Tim Curry.  He has apparently developed a bit of a following for his performance as Pennywise the Clown in the TV miniseries , Stephen King's It, a performance I did not see, as I can't stand horror films. 
Pennywise the Clown

But let's face it.  No matter the bulk of Tim Curry's work since then, he will always be inexorably connected to the Rocky Horror phenomenon. 
A more bizarre sex symbol cannot be
imagined, but Curry's Frank attracted
both men and women. Hide the children.

This bizarre mix of sci-fi, horror, and rock-and-roll was put on film in 1975, and was a resounding flop.  Then some young hotshot at Fox Studio suggested that the movie be released on college campuses, to be shown at midnight.  A cult classic was born. 
Recognize anyone? That's Patrick Stewart, before his Star Trek days, playing opposite Rocky Horror's original Magenta, Patricia Quinn. A few years after supplying those animated lips which open The Rocky Horror Picture Show, she made another splash on TV, as I, Claudius's villainous sister Livilla.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is unofficially acknowledged to hold the record for the longest running film ever, as it's still technically in its initial release to all the art houses which still hold midnight showings.
The original Roxy stage cast featured a Rocky (far left) who was more surfer dude than muscle boy, and a Brad (center, in a lab coat) who was more preppy than nerdy. It was the unexpected smash of the year in Los Angeles, and played to sell-out crowds for nine months.  The show finally closed, to release Tim Curry for the film version.
The participatory aspect of The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a phenomenon of its own, and has been featured in pop culture for decades. 
Perks of Being a Wallflower, released just last year, has only the latest in a long line of sequences in various films and TV shows which featured a visit to a midnight showing of Rocky Horror.  The original Fame features such a sequence way back in 1980, and The Drew Carey Show devoted part of an episode to recreating the Time Warp dance number.  Glee devoted a full episode to Rocky Horror, with all the students taking roles in the cult hit.  They released a soundtrack of that particular episode, which debuted on the charts at #6.
But  Rocky Horror did not begin with the midnight showings of the film.  It began in London in 1973, in a tiny 60 seat upstairs theatre, and the cast included most of the actors who would recreate their performances for the film two years later. The offbeat show was a smash, and moved twice to larger theaters (actually, to converted movie houses) before closing after almost 3000 performances.  Tim Curry had long gone by then, as Hollywood beckoned. 
The Roxy was not a theatre, but a nightclub/concert
venue. For RH, tables were set up, and a ramp bisected
the audience, allowing actors to enter from the rear.

In 1974, The Rocky Horror Show, with Tim Curry as its secret weapon, traveled to Los Angeles for its American stage premiere at the Roxy on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, CA.  And I was there.
At Riverwood High in Atlanta, my buddy Donna, along with my buddy Robert and myself, were the three musketeers.  This picture was taken en route to a costume party;  two years later, I had moved to L.A., and Donna came for a visit.  When Cass Elliot died during her trip, we had to do something wild and rock-and-rollish to honor her offbeat life. We drove down to the Sunset Strip to see Hollywood's latest underground hit, a raw and raunchy Rocky Horror Show.
The Roxy Theatre really wasn't one.  A makeshift stage popped up at one end of the small room, and tables were set up for the audience to sit and drink.  There was no wing space, the actors made their entrances down a ramp which stretched from the back of the room to the stage.  We looked UP to see the action. 
When Trixie the Usherette appeared to announce
the "Science Fiction Double Feature," in clown
makeup and fishnets, I suspected this musical
was not going to resemble my recent high school
production of Hello, Dolly.

I had an immediate affection for the nerdy Narrator (who became the Criminologist in the film).  This was, in fact, the only actor in the piece I recognized, from his numerous TV appearances.  
Graham Jarvis narrated Rocky Horror at the
Roxy. He would later go on to play a leading
role in the soap spoof Mary Hartman,
Mary Hartman.

He was an absolute scream, and his performance placed the role of the Narrator on my Bucket List, before we even called it that.  Even at age 19, I knew that one day, I'd love to play it.  But even my affection for the dry delivery of a one-liner was overshadowed by the electric entrance of Tim Curry as Frank N. Furter.  That entrance, from the film version, is this week's Dance Party, and it's plenty powerful in the movie.  But it does not compare to the star's live entrance at the Roxy. 

Other than Curry, Meat Loaf was the only
Roxy cast member to recreate his role
for the film. And he played
only the suicidal Eddie; on stage, he
doubled as Dr. Scott. The moment in
Act II, when the proper professor strips
off his blanket to reveal fishnets and
heels, remains burned in my memory.

As I said, the stage was a makeshift one, so there was no elevator or wingspace or anything.  Instead, Curry made his entrance from behind the audience.  To the driving beat of his first number, he strode down the ramp, which was raised above eye level of the audience.  Tim must be 6'4" at least, and parading around in his garish high heels, he towered over the audience.  You didn't look at him, you looked UP at him.  And you couldn't look away.

Let's face it:  the climax of the play was meant to result in one.  This group grope sequence was the most sensual moment I have ever witnessed on stage.  It was powerfully provocative, and personally unsettling.  But I guess the overall message of The Rocky Horror Show is clear enough:  Don't dream it, be it.
Curry spent a lot of years running away from his phenomenal success in Rocky Horror, but, as stars who inadvertently create iconic characters usually do, he has reconciled himself to the fact that his participation in the cult classic will be the headline of his obituary.  No one needs to be told, I imagine, that the clip below features the very young Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick, not that you pay much attention to them once Tim Curry explodes onto the screen.  So let's enjoy one of the most unusual star entrances in the history of musical film: