Rocky Horror reimagined: An unforgettable night of madness, glamour and sensational performances

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Rocky Horror reimagined: An unforgettable night of madness, glamour and sensational performances

rocky horror melbourne
photos: Daniel Boud
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words by Isabelle Oderberg

It’s always dangerous to see a new take on something you love, because any reboot is laced with inherent risk for a superfan.

So I have no idea why I put my hand up to see the latest incarnation of the Rocky Horror Show, staged to celebrate the show’s 50th anniversary. Irrespective, I was positively shivering with antici….SAY IT!…pation.

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Being opening night, it was a mixed crowd in the theatre, with die-hard fans scattered among celebrities and, unusually for a Rocky Horror production, very few audience members in costume. As a seasoned Rocky aficionado, it was pretty funny to watch the lights come up at intermission and see the perplexed look on some of the faces in the audience, clearly wondering what the hell had just happened. In the words of one friend I bumped into getting Maltesers, “that was the most batshit crazy thing I’ve seen in my life”.

Jason Donovan was enticed back to Australia to take up the roll of Frank N Furter, a role he knows well, after first playing Frank back in 1998, in a production celebrating the play’s 25th anniversary.

Donovan’s experience walking in Frank’s platform heels showed. He was a wonderful, slightly detestable, Frank, just the way the character needs to be played, with a hot side-serve of sleaze and sexy admits the fishnets and smeared lippy. His solo numbers were without fault, including the sad final song Frank performs before he departs.

The other big-name drawcard for the production was Myf Warhurst as the Narrator. Rocky Horror is a cult classic, known for its callbacks. Meaning that at certain points during the show, the audience shouts back lines at the performers. The lines have been shouted for decades and are known off by heard by die-hard Rocky Horror fans.

Many of them are directed at the Narrator, for which Warhurst was prepared. But when she responded, she broke character. The beautiful, beloved, sunny disposition of Myf Warhurst, truly a national treasure, is at odds with the stern, gruff, academic demeanour of the Narrator. In responding as herself, Warhurst broke character. A very small negative in the scheme of things, in an otherwise exceptional show.

It’s difficult to choose a standout in the remaining cast, because they were all absolutely and utterly outstanding. Stellar Perry and Henry Rollo were perfect as Magenta and Riff Raff respectively, with Perry well and truly stamping her own style on the role and kicking off the show wonderfully as the usherette. I really do hope to see more of her around the traps.

Meanwhile, Deirdre Khoo and Ethan Jones took on Janet and Brad respectively. While both performances were excellent, Khoo’s pipes really stood out as she navigated both the soft and more sassy sides of her character.

Darcey Eagle was an energetic Columbia, very much reminiscent of Nell Campbell’s take in the movie. And Ellis Dolan as Eddie and Dr Scott were also pretty true to the movie renditions of the characters.

Though I wonder whether, given that this cast has more diversity than any other Rocky Horror production I’ve ever seen, it would have been a wiser choice to cast someone who actually uses a wheelchair as Dr Scott, rather than having Dolan do it, as good a job as he did. Just a thought.

Loredo Malcolm seemed a little bit nervous at the start, but his comedy one-liners were delivered to the back of the net with aplomb, his physical beauty was spectacular and his singing impeccable.

The casting of the show overall can’t have been easy, the number of triple or even quadruple threats needed to make it work is mind-boggling, but they have managed to uncover some really exceptional Australian talent who don’t just make it work, they make it soar.

The musical numbers were impeccably choreographed and super tight. The humour was clearly not lost on a single member of the cast, with every joke and one-liner hitting its mark.

While there were signs as we walked in warning the audience that the production included the use of water pistols, dry rice and a few other bits of bobs, none of that was used on opening night – presumably so the a-list and d-list celebs surrounding us didn’t mess up their makeup or hair. But be warned, it might not be prudent to wear your Sunday best on another night.

But it’s no real loss that we missed out, it just makes me want to head back to the Athenaeum and do the time warp again. (It’s just a jump to the left).

Showing until 23 July 2023 at Athenaeum Theatre 1

Tickets: $89-$210. Running time: Two hours including interval