Interview: 'Rocky Horror' Producer Lou Adler On Audience Participation, Cursing, And Richard O'Brien

After the enormous success of Grease Live, Fox is putting on another musical this year. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is not live, but it has a twist. The new remake of the 1975 film includes an audience who participates in the show, like performance groups have done at midnight shows of Rocky Horror for 40 years.

Fox presented a Rocky Horror panel to the Television Critics Association this summer that included director Kenny Ortega, cast members including Tim Curry himself, and producer Lou Adler. At the Fox TCA party that evening we got to speak with Adler about the history of Rocky Horror leading up to the new version. 

When Glee did their Rocky Horror episode, they changed "Transexual, Transylvania" [in the song "Sweet Transvestite"] to "sensational Transylvania." Can you say transexual?


Are there any lyric changes you have to make?

We took out fuck. Mindfuck.

What do you say instead?

We tried two or three things and we're not sure which one will stay in.

I always thought there was an official audience participation script but I realize that fans have tried to coordinate and distribute scripts so it's not a free for all, because they respect that even the audience should be a performance.

Yeah, but in a sense it's a free for all which takes away from it.

So how do you make sure the fans were part of the performance but not interrupting the film?

As far as the film, we went through two or three things with Sal Piro, the president of the fan club for 44 years. He then said, "That one works, that doesn't work." We had to get down to 88 minutes so we had to leave some of them out.

How did your audience break down between devoted fans, and are there any Rocky Horror virgins in your audience?

Yes, there are some virgins. No real devoted fans. Well, some devoted fans. I would say it was general fans, very few devoted fans and very few virgins.

Did you have any fun with the virgins like they do at the live shows?

No, not really. We didn't go that far.

When the choreography is so cemented in not only the movie that's been around for 40 years, but groups have performed that choreography along with the movie for 40 years, how can you change it up?

Well, Kenny Ortega is basically the choreographer. He was able to expand on it. I had to pull back in some places because where's the Time Warp? But there's enough of the real original Time Warp and then he opens up a little bit because he had professional dancers.

So there's always a nugget of the original choreography?

It's always there.

A 1975 film budget must have had limitations. Were there any aspects of the film that you couldn't do then that you can finally do now?

Not really because Jim Sharman, the director [of the movie] was going after a specific look. So he was within the budget. The only thing that I would find that we decided while we were filming, we needed $2,000 which I put up, when Tim is singing "I'm Coming Home" and all of a sudden the audience comes up all dressed in tuxedos. He's singing "I'm Coming Home," it's empty and all of a sudden he sees this audience of people in tuxedos and gowns. That was a last-minute thing. This time we made sure that we had an audience before we shot.

Last year the Alamo Drafthouse did a no participation screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It must've been the first time in 40 years the film was shown that way. Were you aware of that?

No, I wasn't. Where was it?

It was the Alamo Drafthouse in Texas.

What was their reason?

Just because no one had ever been able to see the film without an audience in 40 years. Does it feel special that it's come around where people wanted to have the original theatrical experience before it became a midnight sensation?

I think so. In the film version that we do, we interrupt it maybe three times, and not in a way that really interrupts it. I'll tell you one scene. In the meal, Frank-N-Furter sings "Happy Birthday" to Rocky. She puts on a hat and the audience then puts on party hats. It's stuff like that, not really an interruption.

Is the rice throwing still in there?


Do you know what Richard O'Brien is working on now?

He had just had two things. He has a play called The Stripper that got very good reviews. The soundtrack is probably very good.

Do you think there may be any way to work the Shock Treatment music into something?

I would love to. The music and lyrics in Shock Treatment are terrific.

Could you maybe use them in a different context than the film?

We thought about it but we wanted to stay with just this score. It's 53 minutes and 20 songs.


The Rocky Horror Picture Show airs Thursday, October 20 at 8PM on Fox.