ALBANY — Barry Bostwick is an acclaimed actor, having earned awards from his work on stage and in front of the camera, but there’s something about this time of year that will make a theatre full of people want to call him… something not nice.
Surprising behavior towards the Tony Award-winning actor, who originated the role of Danny Zuko in the stage production of “Grease.” He later earned his hardware for Best Actor in a Musical in “The Robber Bridegroom.” He earned a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in the 1989 television mini-series “War and Remembrance.” He also has the distinction of portraying George Washington twice, earning a Peabody Award in the process.
“I don’t know how I ever got the job,” Bostwick said. “If they ever seen me, if they had seen Brad Majors running around in five-inch high heels, they probably would have had a second thought about that.”
Bostwick will appear at the Palace Theatre next Monday, Oct. 21, for a special showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” The showing of the cult classic film is a celebration of a 10 year partnership between The Kids of Albany and the Palace Theatre. The night will include Bostwick, his underwear, Bostwick in his underwear, singing, costumes and virgin shaming.
Bostwick plays a straight-laced, “young Republican” in Majors, who plays opposite to Susan Sarandon’s Janet Weiss. The two are a newly engaged couple who happen upon a castle as they try to find help when their car suffers a flat tire on a cold, rainy night in the country. In the castle, they stumble upon a peculiar convention of people that includes Tim Curry’s Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a sweet transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania.
People have tried to tie the film’s popularity to the LGBT movement. Just the mention of the film conjures either Curry’s ruby red lips or his legs in fishnet stockings and suspenders. There’s also some noteworthy bed-hopping throughout the movie, too. But, Bostwick said he does not believe that was anyone’s intent when the movie was made.
“It’s just sex, drugs, and rock and roll,” Bostwick said. “You can’t go wrong with that. Every generation is drawn to that kind of freedom, and to that pure enjoyment and fun.”
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” has been an interactive experience for more than 40 years. Critics hated it when it was first released in 1975. But, it quickly developed into something of its own through midnight showings in New York CIty and Pittsburgh. In Greenwich Village, patrons of the Waverly Theater took to talking back to the screen while dressed as a character from the movie. It was the start of the “shadow cast.”
The origin of the shadow cast is credited to the King’s Court Theater in Pittsburgh. In addition to dressing in character, audience members would quietly perform in front of the film while lip-synching dialogue. The idea caught on in other cities and has evolved over the years with fans shouting back lines not in the film; for example, the habit of calling Bostwick an “a-hole” whenever his Majors appears on screen.
The rebellious audience behavior paired with the make-up and cross dressing theme shared by the music world have married the film to punk. Bostwick said some inspiration was drawn from David Bowie’s androgynous stage persona, Ziggy Stardust. Since then, pairing an elegant top hat or military jacket – symbols of conformity and order – juxtaposed with studded leather and ripped clothing has been a staple in punk music.
“The movie has a certain element of innocence that I think people are drawn to,” Bostwick said. “They can see themselves in one character or another, and they can throw crap at themselves.”
Rocky Horror is the longest-running theatrical release in film history. Bostwick has attended a countless number of shows. To the shows in which he’s expected to attend, fans know they will find him selling autographed pairs of “tighty whities.” For him, it’s been a career full of wonderful contrasts. This holiday season, you can expect to see him in a Hallmark movie dressed as Santa Claus.
“I’ve done really wonderful, crappy things and honest, honorable things,” said Bostwick, now 74. “It’s what keeps me interested in doing what I do. It’s never just one thing. I love to sell my underwear at these things because I like to see people laugh… They’ll look at my underwear — I have it framed in a shadow box I bought at Goodwill — but, then they’ll look at a picture of me as George Washington… next to my underwear.”
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.