Dan Domenech wears jeans and a casual blue hooded sweater as he sips a root beer. Standing over 6 feet tall, it's easier to imagine him dribbling a basketball than wearing fishnets and eyeliner. His dark brown eyes light up in sheepish amusement when he admits that he walks around his hotel room in heels to rehearse for his role in Dallas Theater Center's Rocky Horror Show. But it's not wearing the heels that he finds embarrassing; it's the possibility he won't be comfortable enough in them. As the show's Frank-N- Furter, he'll need to nimbly slink across the boards if he doesn't want to be booed offstage.
"It's not my first time wearing heels. I did that in Rent years ago," Domenech says with a laugh. "But I'm training a muscle I don't normally use. I have to do a lot of strutting."
Plus, he wants to do the part justice, because hundreds of die-hard Rocky Horror fans will be in the audience and Domenech has iconic heels to fill.
If Rocky Horror Show seems a strange choice for the season opener at the city's biggest theater, it's not for lack of planning. For a few years, associate artistic director Joel Ferrel has been looking for a time to produce this adult cult classic about gender-bending, sexual orientation and aliens. He just wishes it weren't still so relevant.
"The show asks about gender identity, sexual identity, and really identity to begin with," Ferrell says. "It asks, 'What is the other?' Not only is America wrapped up right now in a ludicrous way with naming the other, especially naming the bad guy, it's amazing how thoroughly we are taught as kids to find what category we are in and then conform, conform."
The Rocky Horror Show first emerged in London in 1973 as a small theatrical send-up of B science fiction and horror films. It fell into the rock musical genre bubbling up at that time; Hair hit New York City in 1967, followed by Oh! Calcutta! in 1969 and Jesus Christ Superstar in 1970. These shows directly addressed the social and political revolutions taking place during the '60s, using music and character development to put the peace-driven, free love movement on stage. Richard O'Brien's Rocky Horror Show fell in the same vein, but it was pumping a new kind of blood into the theater: It was more punk than rock 'n' roll and it was just really damn fun.
"It really coincided with the birth of the original punk movement in London," says Ferrell. "These kids weren't as self-aware. They were just intentionally going to do things that incite. I'm a boy but I'm going to put on eye shadow, I'm a girl but I'm going to shave my head."
It was a smash hit upon debut, transferring to a bigger London theater after its initial one-month run and would continue for seven years. Interestingly, despite its success across the pond and a receptive trial run in Los Angeles, Rocky Horror closed after a mere 45 performances on Broadway in 1975 (It would be more successful in later revivals).
When the film premiered at American theaters later the same year, it fell similarly flat with American audiences, earning its notoriety when it was shown as part of the countercultural tradition of midnight movies. People started throwing rice, snapping rubber gloves and screaming "slut" with abandon at the character of Janet. Often, a troupe of young performers will act out the scenes as they play on the big screen behind them. It became a communal experience for people who identified as misfits; it tacitly became safe place for high schoolers who weren't going to the Friday night parties with the popular kids. And though the film's message of acceptance was perhaps secondary to the event of attending the show, it allowed this generation a new sense of freedom.
"If the writers were in any ways preachy, it probably wouldn't be as popular as it is," Ferrell says. "The show just says nobody should conform, and in the film Tim Curry took this on and what a whole generation experienced was that there's no shame in who you are."
That Rocky Horror movie theaters still programSing-a-Longs and midnight movie screenings (they happen monthly at the Inwood Theatre) speaks to its status as a cult classic. It's also true though that when the Dallas Theater Center show opens its version of the show September 11, there will be an entire generation of audience members unfamiliar with songs like "Time Warp" or "Sweet Transvestite."
"I saw Rocky Horror growing up in Long Island, so it's weird for me to think about an entire generation of young people who haven't seen it," says Domenech. "But it's such a kickass, crazy show, I think even the newbies will fall in love with it. We've been developing a special brand of weird."
If anyone in Dallas can extract the wonderfully weird from Rocky Horror, it's director Joel Ferrell, who earned critical accolades for his sexy, immersive Cabaret and his playful revamp of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat.
"We haven't really done an adult rock musical that celebrates the joy of hearing great music, great voices," Ferrell says. "It's going to bring this space alive, and it's such a fun show."
In addition to bringing in Domenech from New York City, Ferrell cast a bevy of talented Dallas-based actors, including the incomparable Liz Mikel, Alex Organ as Brad and Chamblee Ferguson as Riff Raff.
Ferrell is keeping most of the show's surprises under wraps, promising "it will be different every night." How different? Well, the show is about a bunch of gender-bending, sexually experimental aliens, so what you see is definitely not what you get.
The Rocky Horror Show plays the Dallas Theater Center September 11- October 19. Tickets and more information are available at dallastheatercenter.org.