'Rocky Horror' Music Producers Lou & Cisco Adler on Reimagining a Cult Classic for a New Generation

Cisco Adler and Laverne Cox
Kaelan Barowski

Cisco Adler and Laverne Cox

"I felt there were a lot of Brads and Janets out there who should be exposed to it but don’t go to a lot of midnight screenings," Lou tells Billboard before Fox musical's Thursday premiere.

When Cisco Adler stepped into the studio to produce the music and cast album for The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again -- which premieres Thursday night (Oct. 20) on Fox -- the Grammy-nominated producer/songwriter admits he was hearing voices.

“The fans’ voices were in our ear,” he tells Billboard, referring to the fervent followers of the 1975 cult classic that still has midnight showings in theaters around the country. “The goal around every corner was to make sure it was something that they didn’t feel was too far from something that they think is perfect, but also modernize [the songs] where I felt they could be punched up. I wasn’t trying to have everyone burn their old records.”

In many ways, producing the album was in Adler’s DNA. After all, he is the son of Lou Adler, the executive producer of the original Rocky Horror Picture Show film, which came out three years before his birth. “The music is something that’s been playing as far back as I can remember,” Adler, 38, says. “I really, truly knew that someday I’d get to tackle this project as a family crest.” Appropriately, the soundtrack comes out Friday on Ode Sounds & Visuals, Lou Adler’s label that released the original movie cast album.

The process of rebooting Rocky Horror for a new generation has been a long one. “We’ve been thinking of doing this for five or six years,” says Lou Adler, who executive produced the new version too. “The genesis of why I wanted to do it is because I felt there were a lot of Brads and Janets out there who should be exposed to it but don’t go to a lot of midnight screenings. That’s why I went to Fox Television, as opposed to something like HBO. I wanted a very broad audience.”

Once Orange Is the New Black star Laverne Cox auditioned for sweet transvestite Dr. Frank-n-Furter, Lou Adler knew they were on solid ground. “We saw [Laverne] and knew she was right. There was no Plan B. It was just, ‘Let’s go.’”

Since the music had to be recorded before filming started, that meant that before the actors -- which also include Victoria Justice (Janet), Ryan McCartan (Brad), Adam Lambert (Eddie) and Reeve Carney (Riff-Raff) -- stepped on the set in Toronto, their first stop was Adler’s Malibu studio.

“[Director] Kenny Ortega and my dad were in the studio and they would do character development because the actors would have to live with the accent, live with the nuance, live with this character from this moment,” Cisco Adler says.

While working within the framework of the original songs, Cisco Adler arranged each tune to play to the performer’s strengths. For example, “Once I found out Adam was Eddie, I wanted to make sure ‘Hot Patootie ( Bless My Soul)’ provided the bed for him to wail like he’d been doing with Queen,”  Cisco Adler says.

Cox was so on point from the start that Cisco Adler says her screen-test vocal of “I’m Going Home” is the rendition used in the TV production. “She’d sung a little bit here or there, but never on that level, and she rose to it,” he says. The actors were backed live by Cisco Adler’s studio band, The Sunset Boys, which includes Cody Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars), Duane Betts (Dawes) and Khari Mateen (The Roots, Cody Simpson).

For Cisco Adler, one of the joys of the project was working alongside his legendary father, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013 for his work with such artists as Carole King and The Mamas & the Papas. “The time spent in the studio working on this together was incredible,” says the younger Adler. “One, as a father and son, and then as a producer and knowing what he’s done and to look over and just see him nod his head.”

Lou Adler says he never considered anyone else for the soundtrack. “That was a foregone conclusion on my part, just based on how much he knew about Rocky Horror and how much he could add to it being a contemporary musician and producer,” he says. “The only direction I gave him was to stay true to the original and add those contemporary things you do so well that will give it another color.”

As for the new version, Lou Adler has no desire that it become a cult phenomenon like the original and replace it as a midnight staple at the local cineplex -- quite the opposite. “I definitely do not want this version to go into the theaters. This is a television film that we did as an event and homage to the original and to the fans that have kept it going for 40-some years. It’s not in competition in any way,” he says. “It is a tribute. Rocky Horror has always been and will be ‘Don’t dream it, be it.’ All you should do is put it out there and then it becomes for people what’s right for them.”


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