It’s been forty years since Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show first trolloped onto the stage. The show gained cult status when it was adapted into the 1975 film The Rocky Horror Picture Show and became the longest-running release in film history.
The all-new 40th Anniversary production of the Rocky Horror Show had its Australian premiere in Brisbane over the weekend. Cult followers and new fans alike, many dressed appropriately for the occasion, gave a standing ovation and danced to ‘The Time Warp’, a surprise treat as the encore number. Appearing on stage was none other than the originator, and original Riff Raff, Richard O’Brien, who led the singalong to the delight of the audience.
Outrageous fun for a contemporary audience, I can’t image what type of furore this kinky rock musical would have created originally, with it’s sweet transvestites, corsets, red lipstick, high heels, and fishnet stockings – and that’s just the men!
With a B-grade horror storyline, along with B-grade opening set piece, the show follows the experiences of newly engaged, squeaky clean sweethearts, Brad and Janet whose car breaks down one dark and stormy night. Forced to take refuge in an eerie castle, they find themselves among a sordid, motley bunch of characters, lead by the scandalously sexy Dr Frank N Furter (Craig McLachlan), who has just succeeded in creating the perfect man – enter scantily clad, muscle bound Rocky.
With a relatively small cast for a main stage musical, the characters were so vivid and well drawn, that we didn’t need extra bodies with huge dance numbers to entertain us, nor did we need a massive orchestra. The four-piece band under the musical direction of Dave Skelton did not seem lacking, and having them visible on a mezzanine floor was a nice touch.
Craig McLachlan has donned his fishnets for a second time to play the coveted cross-dresser Frank N Furter whom he first played in 1992. McLachlan is fabulously flirty, wickedly wayward and completely charismatic in this role and just steals the show whenever onstage, which is pretty much all the time.
Christie Whelan Browne (A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum) and Tim Maddren (The Addams Family) play the naive lovers Janet and Brad aptly. I say aptly because their roles do not give them the opportunity of shining. Their characters are purposely two dimensional, acting as the catalyst for the mayhem that surrounds them. Of course, their vocals are superb, and that talent is not lost on the audience.
Reprising his role as Riff Raff is Kristian Lavercombe and he is so amazing that it’s not surprising he has also played the role in New Zealand and the UK. Erika Heynatz is perfectly cast as the sassy Magenta and Ashlea Pyke (Legally Blonde) plays the toe-tapping groupie Columbia with as much sparkle as the vest she wears. Nicholas Christo (My Fair Lady) plays the duel roles of Eddie and Dr Scott, and Brendan Irving (An Officer and a Gentleman) plays the hunky, eye-candy creation Rocky. Rounding out the cast are The Phantoms played by Vincent Hooper, Luigi Lucente, Meghan O’Shea, and Angela Scundi, while James Maxfield is the Swing/Dance Captain.
The sets, designed by Hugh Durrant, were serviceable rather than spectacular, but they didn’t need to shine, that was left to the performers. The bed design was clever and the lighting, designed by Nick Richings, complemented the scenes well.
The show with timeless classic tunes, including ‘Sweet Transvestite’, ‘Damn it Janet’, and ‘The Time Warp’, along with outrageously memorable characters, makes Rocky Horror part of the canon of classic musicals. The movie attracted a cult following which has grown into The Rocky Experience with fans dressing as characters from the show, singing along to the tunes, and even calling out lines from the script along the way. The Rocky Experience is such a phenomena that the production team created ‘The Virgins Guide for Audience Participation Etiquette’. Originally only for the movie, the ‘AP’ has become a part of the stage show as well, and can be found on their website: rockyhorror.com.au/virgins-guide.
The Rocky Horror Show will play in Brisbane till 9 February, then tour to the Crown Theatre in Perth on the 14 February, the Festival Theatre in Adelaide 20 March, and the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne 24 April.