Published June 19. 2012 4:00AM Updated June 19. 2012 1:14PM
If the fact that Groton Regional Theatre is staging "The Rocky Horror Show" seems waaaaaaay outside the norm of what they do, that's exactly the point.
This is, after all, the stage show on which the cult-classic film was based - a little sci-fi/horror parody, a little den of alien debauchery, a little "sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania."
The community theater group's most recent other productions, by way of comparison, were the Neil Simon comedy "Plaza Suite" and that sun-will-come-out-tomorrow musical "Annie."
"We wanted to appeal to a different audience, to get more people to come out and see something," says H. Victor Panciera, who is directing "Rocky Horror." "We just wanted to do something that people hadn't done."
GRT considered other options, including "Spamalot," which they couldn't do because the rights weren't available to the general public at that point.
The group decided on "Rocky Horror," which it will perform starting Friday in the place it usually performs its shows: the Groton Senior Center.
The cast is a fairly young group, and many of them know "Rocky Horror" well - so well, in fact, that they sometimes found themselves singing along with other character's songs during rehearsal.
Panciera had only seen the film once, many years ago.
"But I have now seen it about a hundred times," he laughs. "I have the CD in my car, and I have one in my kitchen."
While Richard O'Brien's "Rocky Horror" premiered onstage in 1973 in London, it was the 1975 film adaptation that become a pop-culture touchstone. Over the decades, fans have flocked to midnight screenings to throw toast, do "The Time Warp," and react to lines of dialogue.
The fact that the film has become so iconic raised some interesting issues during GRT rehearsals.
Panciera says, "Every time I tried to do something or say something or try something, somebody would say, 'Well, that's not in the movie.' I thought, if we're going to do it exactly like the movie, I'm going to rent the movie, put it on a screen and go home."
He came to the conclusion that he simply had to do it his way.
"Who's to say this guy who did the movie is the be-all-and-end-all? Maybe I can find something new," Panciera says.
And he banned anyone from using the word "movie" in rehearsals.
As if directing "Rocky Horror" isn't work enough, Panciera is also in charge of the costumes. Scaring up bustiers is only half the sartorial battle.
"It's been a challenge and a half, trying to find women's shoes that fit a man's big feet. Seriously, I have been shopping for shoes since February," he says.
He had been hitting up Goodwill once a week and, a couple weeks ago, was increasing the visit frequency to every day because he still needed certain items.
Panciera stretches the shoes out, trying to widen women's shoes so they'll fit men's feet. He has the actors wear them as much as possible. Ken Schroeder, the actor who plays Frank N. Furter, has taken his high heels home and worn them around the house.
Schroeder has been acting since high school and previously worked with GRT playing Daddy Warbucks in GRT's "Annie."
"So this is a little bit of a change," Schroeder says in a major piece of understatement. "('Rocky Horror') is always a show and a role I wanted to do. It's one of the very few characters that you can be as over-the-top and charismatic (as you want). That's actually encouraged."
And mad scientist/transvestite Frank N. Furter has what Schroeder calls "one of the biggest entrances in any musical ever. ... All of the attention in the room is directed right at him. It's so much fun."
The character is a show-stopper, as he struts in, all sexual swagger and dressed in lingerie, singing "Sweet Transvestite."
"This is the first time I've had to deal with these kinds of costumes, which is a little bit of a challenge," Schroeder says. "But it's fun and it's irreverent. People who like 'Rocky Horror' like it for a reason."
He thinks the intense "Rocky" cult following might stem from the fact that the story breaks the rules and pushes the limits. It challenges what people consider normal to be. And it's entertaining.
During a Sunday rehearsal, Panciera gave the actors pre-rehearsal pointers and then said, "My one wish is that you have fun."
The performers certainly seemed to be having a good time. Before the performance, they mingled and laughed, admiring as an actress was trying on a spectacularly pouffy wedding dress, which Panciera had nabbed at Goodwill.
The rehearsal motored along, stopping occasionally for set and lighting tweaks. The actors - decked out in appropriate "Rocky Horror" wear, including the inevitable corsets and garters for the finale - happily delved into all the familiar songs, from "Dammit, Janet!" to "I'm Going Home."
In the move to the Groton stage, some "Rocky Horror" conventions have survived - GRT will do a midnight show, in honor of the midnight screenings that helped "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" become a cult classic.
And theatergoers are encouraged to dress up as their favorite characters.
Other traditions, though, have been eliminated. Audience members are prohibited from tossing toast and toilet paper at the GRT production.
But that shouldn't dampen the enthusiasm for the show.
"We're really excited about it," Schroeder says. "I think it's going to be one of the best shows GRT's put together."