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Musical review: The Rocky Horror Show

South Australians are donning sparkles and fishnets to do the Time Warp again with this vivacious and slick new 50th anniversary production of The Rocky Horror Show.

Apr 20, 2023, updated Apr 20, 2023
Classy and classic: The 50th anniversary production of 'The Rocky Horror Show'. Photo: Daniel Boud / supplied

Classy and classic: The 50th anniversary production of 'The Rocky Horror Show'. Photo: Daniel Boud / supplied

The only contemporary rock musical to reach such an age, The Rocky Horror Show has been seen by more than 30 million people in more than 30 different countries and in more than 20 languages. Although creator Richard O’Brien’s script originally came to life for a small audience of 63 at the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs in London in 1973, it was its adaptation for the film in 1975 that stoked the belly of this phenomenal beast.

Audiences began returning to the cinema again and again to dress up as characters, yell out various lines in sync with those of the actors, and even heckle the on-screen performers. It was with enormous enthusiasm that this enduring trend shifted to the stage performance, and audience participation at Adelaide’s Festival Theatre on opening night showed just the right amount of fandom – not too much to make it feel like an insiders’ set, but enough to energise the room’s merry vibe.

The story is by now familiar to most people: morally upright virgin sweethearts Brad and Janet stumble upon a castle on a dark and stormy night, where mad scientist Dr Frank N Furter is holding court. He is surrounded by a cast of seductive misfits from the galaxy of Transylvania, who, when not trying to build a beautiful man for Frank’s pleasure, are singing, dancing and sharing in all kinds of sexual frivolities.

It doesn’t take long for Brad and Janet to join in the fun.

Deirdre Khoo and Ethan Jones as ‘virgin sweethearts’ Janet and Brad. Photo: Daniel Boud

The set for this production moves cleverly from kitsch to ornate as the tone of the show darkens, but what really stands out are the film strips running along the top of the action, where occasionally characters watch over the plot and jeer as the band, barely lit, plays iconic musical numbers such as “The Time Warp”, “Sweet Transvestite” and “Touch-A-Touch-A-Touch Me”. It’s not only classy, it’s classic.

David Bedella embodies the mad scientist Frank N Furter.

Brad is played to endearing perfection by Ethan Jones, and Janet with surprising versatility by Deirdre Khoo, while three-time Olivier Award winner David Bedella is a tremendous and commandingly sensual presence as Frank N Furter. Darcey Eagle’s interpretation of Columbia is uniquely rendered, though she captures the essence of the prototype, and Henry Rollo’s Riff Raff has a ghoulish Axl Rose sex appeal.

Did I mention that Australia’s darling, Myf Warhurst (Triple J, Spicks and Specks), is The Narrator? And for the first three shows at the Festival Theatre she is joined by Richard O’Brien, whose fabulous performance as a guest star to celebrate the 50th anniversary thrilled fans.

The entire ensemble is exceptional, and you get the sense they are enjoying the heck out of themselves. The fact that it’s a multicultural cast also makes one consider whether the original show maybe missed an opportunity to say something big about race in a similar way to what it did about sexuality.

Myf Warhurst as Rocky Horror‘s Narrator. Photo: Daniel Boud

When Rocky Horror first opened, homosexuality was rarely acknowledged in any respectable or rational way, and transsexuality was even more taboo. The show played a part in helping pave the way to sexual freedom with lyrics like “Don’t dream it, be it” and what was once seen as shocking subversion became a love-in of affirmation. Today, more than ever, The Rocky Horror Show is an LGBTQIA+ celebration.

This is a feel-good production, but at the same time bawdy and naughty. Spectacular is one word to describe the whole shebang, and fans showed no hesitation in getting to their feet for a standing ovation and the Time Warp finale.

The Rocky Horror Show is at the Festival Theatre until May 13.

Topics: musicals
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