Let's do the time warp: Rocky Horror returns to Appell Center with a twist
Earl Melvin got his first taste of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" in college — and he was immediately drawn to the fishnets, elaborate costumes and timeless occult rock ballads performed by a shadow cast.
“I didn’t know that this was an art form,” Melvin said. “How many African Americans know this is an acceptable art form? 'Rocky Horror' was that shadow cast experience — that new creative experience that many of us in the Black community don’t really even know about.”
Melvin is now running his own "Rocky Horror" shadow cast, the Baltimore-based Chocolate Covered Rocky Horror. The theater group got its start in 2014 and provides an opportunity for queer and people of color to find their own voice in the characters they portray.
A shadow cast is a unique live theater production with an ensemble of artists reciting lines and singing songs while the movie plays alongside them.
“It’s really just an opportunity for beginner performers who are looking for opportunities to express themselves,” Melvin said. "I really love the network and the family we've created."
While Melvin works primarily behind the scenes as creative director and producer, he also occasionally performs on stage — this year as rock and roll biker Eddie, who was originally played by Meat Loaf in the 1975 cult classic.
While performers will use props and audience participation to tell the story of Brad, Janet and Dr. Frank N. Furter, the classic tale will be juxtaposed against a 1960s social climate.
“In the time of the 1960s, there's a little more racial tension. There's not much acceptance,” Melvin said. “So it kind of plays on 'Rocky Horror.' Do we fear them because they’re different or kinky? We thought that we also wanted to keep our identity and tell the story through our experience in America — it really was an African American expression of this film juxtaposed against the original film.”
With performers coming up in their last days of rehearsal, the 2022 Chocolate Covered Rocky Horror will debut at a theater in Baltimore on Friday.
Melvin said he encourages audience members to get into the spirit of "Rocky Horror" through costume and cues. In typical showings of "Rocky Horror," audience members are part of the show — and are expected to react with the story through timed quotes and actions.
"I'm very excited for everyone to see these characters come to life," Melvin said. "And we're very excited to perform and really show off."
The Chocolate Covered Rocky Horror experience is scheduled to take The Appell Center for the Performing Arts stage at 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22. Tickets are $25 in advance and $35 at the door and can be purchased online by visiting https://appellcenter.org/.