Sime Kosta as Frank N. Furter | Photo by Reg Madison Photography
Sime Kosta is no stranger to the spotlight.
The actor and singer participated in national music competitions and put out three albums in his native Croatia before he turned 13. He moved to Arizona when he was 16 and discovered musical theater, going on to study it at Arizona State University. After he graduated, he went to New York and performed in several off-Broadway shows. It was there that he joined EXP Edition, which was the first non-Korean K-pop band in the world.
Now, he’s back in Phoenix, where he is playing Frank N. Furter in Phoenix Theatre Company’s production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The irreverent and iconic musical will be staged at the historical Hormel Theatre in Downtown Phoenix through December 5.
Kosta calls his time as a K-pop artist “a life-changing experience in every way.” What started as an experiment to explore the influences of K-pop and how it affects the world outside of Korea quickly became an international sensation. EXP Edition performed at most of the major museums and galleries in New York, appeared at Art Basel in Miami and eventually got the opportunity to move to Seoul. There, Kosta and his bandmates traveled the country, performed on all major Korean TV networks, toured in Japan and played a music festival in Denmark. “One of the most amazing parts of it all was just the opportunity to live in a different country, to learn a different culture and to study the language,” Kosta says. “I consider myself very lucky to have an opportunity to experience all of that.”
His return to the States – and to musical theater – was a seamless transition, he says. Though performing Korean pop songs and singing show tunes might seem worlds apart, they share a slew of similarities. “What actually attracted me to K-pop in the first place and why I enjoyed it so much was the fact that a lot of the elements reminded me of musical theater,” he says. “K-pop is very unapologetic, it’s very flashy, it’s up in your face, it’s all about the spectacle of it all.”
K-pop’s inherently theatrical nature – from its complex choreography to the over-the-top costumes – reminded Kosta of his roots. “It’s not like a regular pop performance where you have your mic in your hand and you close your eyes and deliver the song.”
Having strayed from musical theater to pursue his K-pop career for seven years, being on stage as Frank N. Furter and “stepping into his heels for a while” has been extremely rewarding for Kosta. “If anything, the one reason I enjoy it even more so is it allows me to connect with the audience that much more,” he says. “With this role, I can sort of break that fourth wall and really connect with the people in the audience every night.”
The Rocky Horror Picture Show has come to be a cult classic since its debut in 1973. The play has been performed on stages across the world and inspired a wildly popular film adaptation. Phoenix Theatre Company’s production is part of its 102nd season programming.
Sime Kosta | Photo courtesy IMMABB Entertainment
When Kosta was at ASU, Phoenix Theatre Company offered him some of his first professional gigs. He understudied for roles in revered musicals such as Spelling Bee and Avenue Q. “I’ve always considered Phoenix Theatre Company to be a theater home to me,” he says. “I am absolutely honored and thrilled that I got to be a part of their season and also to be able to play this iconic role.”
Playing Frank N. Furter also feels like a homecoming of sorts, Kosta says, as he will be reprising the role. He first played the mad scientist from space during his time at ASU in 2010. Playing Frank N. Furter’s character can be daunting, he admits. “Everybody comes to the theater expecting a certain Frank. A lot of people have seen the movie, so they have an idea of what Frank N. Furter is.”
Kosta says his take on the character differs slightly from the movie’s portrayal but will still embody his larger-than-life persona. “There’s really not that many roles in theater that allow you to be as free and as unapologetic as playing Frank,” he says. “The balance of masculinity and femininity, of him being this wild beast but also a hopeless romantic at the same time, of being on this quest to find himself and his place in the world… it’s definitely a challenge but I love Frank and I love being Frank every single night.”
Kosta says Phoenix Theatre Company’s version of the uproariously risqué play is elevated by its talented cast and crew. He is especially inspired by PTC’s award-winning artistic director, Robert Harper. He describes him as a “visionary” with a “hilarious yet emotional” take on the original text written by Richard O’Brien.
Three of Kosta’s castmates are friends from his college days and starred in the version staged by ASU. “Going to work and seeing them feels like we’re one big family and especially during this show, one big freaky family,” he says. “It is incredible, the bond that we have created, not just with the three members that I’ve known for a lot of my life now, but the entire cast.”
The show’s blurred boundaries increase the cast’s closeness. “It’s not like we’re doing The Sound of Music every night,” he says with a laugh.
After Rocky Horror wraps up, Kosta plans to take a page from Frank’s book. He wants to be wild and free. “I have sort of decided that I’m not planning anything as of now,” he says. “I am doing things as they come to me. If there’s anything that speaks to me, I would love to be a part of that.”