The Rocky Horror Picture Show has been continually playing in movie theaters for 43 years, and for the past 16 years Orlando's Rich Weirdoes have been taking a jump to the left and a step to the right every second and fourth Friday and Saturday of the month inside Universal's AMC Cineplex 20. But a sudden corporate switchover has apparently silenced the campy cult classic's improbable run on theme-park property, because Saturday night's performance was celebrated as the last in its longtime home, marking the end of an era for myself as well.
Ever since I discovered it as a College of William and Mary freshman in 1992, Richard O'Brien's infectious rock and rebellious message resonated with me; I soon found myself performing in a "shadowcast." Thanks to Rocky Horror, I wandered the streets of D.C. all night in bad drag; visited New York's infamous Limelight and Vault clubs in their heyday; and nearly got arrested by Virginia state cops for applying makeup in a highway rest stop.
Once I moved to Orlando in 1996, I helped found Dark Refrain, which performed RHPS at the now-demolished AMC Fashion Village 8 in the late 1990s. In 2001, I worked with Larry Viezel from New Jersey's Home of Happiness to hold a Rocky Horror convention with costume designer Sue Blane at the also-now-demolished Delta Orlando Resort and Universal's Cineplex. The event was a success, despite the Sept. 11 attacks occurring only a month beforehand, and led the following year to the Rich Weirdoes (which included former Dark Refrain members and performers from another prior area cast) becoming a regular feature at CityWalk's cinema.
With myself as producer and Ofir Eyal (who has gone on to present award-winning shows at the Orlando Fringe) as director, the Rich Weirdoes earned a loyal following. Re-enactments of movies like Moulin Rouge garnered attention from Orlando Weekly long before I wrote here. And as a result of Rocky Horror, I worked on shows at Theater Downtown, in San Francisco and at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
I've drifted away from the cult, and hadn't watched an entire performance since Eyal's retirement in 2012. But when Universal announced a couple of weeks ago that AMC was exiting as their cinema's operator, and Cinemark – which does not currently host the film at any venue – was taking over as of Sept. 15, I swiftly A-Listed my ticket for the Weirdoes' presumptive swan song. It's a good thing, as both of the weekend's performances sold out, proving that if Rocky Horror disappears in Orlando, it won't be for lack of interest.
Universal's Weirdoes farewell felt like a college reunion, except that (to paraphrase Matthew "Wooderson" McConaughey) I've gotten older, and everyone else has stayed the same age. I grumbled some grumpy-old-man complaints about the preshow stretching past my bedtime and the kickline choreography not being as polished as in days past, although the costumes and props have vastly improved. But even if none of the current performers knew who I was, it brought a tear to my eye to hear virgins recite the Transylvanian Oath ("We swear, often and loudly, to strike a blow for glamour and frivolity, for rock & roll, for 6-inch high heels, for interplanetary intercourse, and for the Transylvanian Way"), and see the MC perform the "audience participation windshield wipers," routines I brought down to Florida and passed on to Logan Donahoo, the cast's former MC.
Donahoo, whose hit Fringe comedies have taken him to Edmonton, Canada, messaged me saying, "My years with the Rich Weirdos were some of my best. Rocky Horror was a place where you could take risks with your comedy, find community, and truly not just 'dream it,' but 'be it.'" Similarly, musician Marc "With a C" Sirdoreus, who performed a preshow concert every Halloween and broke his local hiatus for the final screenings, told me after his set, "This cast believed in me when nobody else did. This cast got that I wasn't just a comedian when no one else got that. ... Rich Weirdoes let me be me, and basically made Marc With a C what it is."
The renovation of Universal's cinema, which was once state-of-the-art but has fallen behind the competition, is long overdue, and I'm a fan of Cinemark's theater at the ex-Artegon. And even if this is the end of the Rich Weirdoes in Orlando, Rocky Horror lives on in Central Florida at (of all places) the Villages. "We sell out regularly there," current cast director Jacqueline Krause told me regarding their well-received run at the Rialto 8, which continues on Sept. 22. "They are wildly successful shows, so we are very fortunate. It's the most rowdy crowd I've ever seen, too." The Weirdoes will also be shadowcasting Mamma Mia! for the geriatric set in Lady Lake while they search for another cinema. Looks like I'll have to get a golf cart if I want to do the Time Warp again.