Boston-based actor Peter Mill stumbled across the 1975 film “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” while flipping through the channels on the TV when he was 13, and even then he was instantly drawn to Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the extravagant, gender-fluid mad scientist character whose portrayal immortalized actor Tim Curry.
“The first time I saw the character, I thought, ‘I can do that,’” he says.
Now 27, that’s precisely what he’s doing in Moonbox Productions’ version of “The Rocky Horror Show” in Harvard Square, taking place at the former location of the candy store Hidden Sweets on Brattle Street.
The return of “Rocky Horror” may feel like a time warp for those familiar with the now-discontinued Harvard Square tradition: Up until the AMC Loews movie theater, formerly on Church Street, closed in 2012, the FullBodyCast players had been performing at “midnight madness” screenings of the film every Saturday night for 28 years.
The over-the-top flick is known for its cult following, and for its fans who choose to see it over and over again. Screenings of the movie are often accompanied by a cast of performers acting out the movie directly in front of the screen, while audience members shout out iconic lines and even throw popcorn (among other things) at them.
But before anyone hits play, there is an initiation of the “virgins”—people who are seeing “Rocky Horror” for the first time—whose foreheads are branded with a red lipstick “V” by the cast before they are made to dance along to the film’s “Time Warp” song at the front of the theater. Over time, heading out to a movie theater to see a midnight screening has also become associated with Halloween.
There are a few key differences between the experience of the movie, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and the play, “The Rocky Horror Show.” Notably, there is no throwing of items at the actors and fewer scenes where audiences are expected to shout back lines. The Richard O’Brien musical also predates the movie by two years, having debuted in London in 1973.
“Essentially, all the good stuff is still there,” Mill says of the theater version currently at the square. “The audience in this show is so important. Not only for the callbacks, but for the energy. The audience loves this show and is part of the show.”
To get into character, Mill likes to arrive at the theater at least three hours early. He hates to rush, and likes to walk around the space before sitting down to focus on hair and makeup. Despite the fact that it’s a relatively short show, with a runtime of only 90 minutes, “it’s a lot” to perform, he says.
Playing Dr. Frank-N-Furter is a hefty task—not only because Mill is on stage for almost the entire show (which he performed twice on opening night, at 7 p.m. and later at 10) and has solos in eight songs, but also because the sexually deviant scientist is so beloved, both by audiences and by Mill himself.
“This is a character that’s just been a part of me since I saw the movie,” Mill says. “I see so many parts of myself in it, even though he’s a lunatic. His openness with his sexuality, his expression with gender. He’s not afraid to express the innermost parts of himself—the parts that he loves and the parts that he thinks are beautiful. I really admire that. He has this wicked and biting sense of humor that I really love and I gravitate towards. It’s like a second skin.”
This role is a fitting beginning to the next step in Mill’s career. After his high school graduation in 2010, he moved to New York—but not before seeing a live production of “Rocky Horror” at age 18 for the first time. He returned to Boston at the end of this past August specifically for the Moonbox Productions staging.
“We really didn’t consider anyone else for the role,” director David Lucey says. “Peter is a Moonbox alum, and we knew he was the only one we were considering. He just understands the character and the world that we were creating better than anyone else could.”
Growing up, Mill’s favorite scene from the movie was always Frank-N-Furter’s entrance during the song “Sweet Transvestite,” but this didn’t end up being his favorite moment of the opening night performances on Oct. 17.
“I had thought that would be my favorite moment when I was doing it, but my heart was in my throat,” he says. “I put so much pressure on myself at that point. My favorite moment now is ‘I’m Going Home.’ It’s my last song, and it’s a moment where I get to connect with every single character on stage and it’s beautiful. I love it.”
Connecting with his fellow cast members is an important part of playing the character for Mill for a number of reasons: One, he needs to establish mutual trust with the actors whom he has to “do awful things to on stage, like Brad and Janet,” and two, he says that it is the responsibility of a lead actor in a show to show a level of professionalism and to guide the rest of the cast.
“There’s something I love and relate to about every character in the show,” he says. “This is all so wild and all of these characters have no inhibitions, at least by the end of the show. … It gives people permission to let it all go and let the freak flag fly for anything. There are people from every walk of life who love the show. All of those things that society tells you to suppress in day to day life, you get to live them for an evening.”
Moonbox Productions’ “The Rocky Horror Show” will be playing at 25 Brattle St. every Wednesday through Sunday until Nov. 2. To learn more and to buy tickets, visit https://www.moonboxproductions.org.