The wild, wacky, and wonderful musical, Rocky Horror has finally returned to Melbourne. Opening at the Athenaeum Theatre, Rocky Horror is also celebrating it’s 50th anniversary this year. And with the return of Jason Donovan to the role of Frank’n’Furter, there is plenty to celebrate!
Having seen several productions of Rocky Horror over the years, I was excited to experience this return production. But would it live up to my expectations and send me on a time warp back to when first experienced it? Thankfully, yes! I dare say, the 50th anniversary return of Rocky Horror is the best one yet.
Originally created by Richard O’Brien, the rock musical gained a momentum that has not slowed down. After 50 years on the stage, Rocky Horror is currently the only musical in the genre to reach such a milestone.
With director Christopher Luscombe at the helm, the Australian production brings its own unique talent to the stage. Starring Dierdre Khoo as Janet and Ethan Jones as Brad, a young couple in love with their whole lives ahead of them, with the opening number ‘Dammit Janet’, Brad proposes to Janet as they make their way home. Naturally, a disaster strikes as the weather rolls in, and their car obtains a puncture. Seeking assistance and shelter from the storm, the couple arrive at a mansion, but they are in no way prepared for what lurks inside.
Now, if you have seen the show before, audience participation can be a big part of the Rocky Horror experience. Most of the time it is dependent on the mood of the crowd for that particular show. Opening night was fraught with plenty of eager patrons wanting to get in on the action.
We got our first taste of this the moment when Brad and Janet enter the mansion and we meet Riff Raff (Henry Rollo). Riff Raff requests the couple “stay there” whilst he goes off to fetch the master. Brad barely takes one step and an audience member shouts, ‘He said stay there!’. To which Brad takes a step back, obeying the instruction. Heckling and audience participation is not commonplace in musical theatre, and it would make each performance somewhat unique for both cast and crowd alike.
We are also introduced to the show’s Narrator portrayed by Myf Warhurst. There are not many shows that I have seen that cast a dedicated narrator, but for Rocky Horror and the crazy antics that unfold, the role is pivotal to provide any sense of understanding to what is happening. Warhurst has her own wonderfully hilarious moments with the audience and their participation. Her quick wit is impressive and is just as funny as the lines shouted from the crowd.
Within the first act, we have two of the most iconic tracks from the show, back-to-back. First, with ‘Time Warp’ where we meet more of the cast. Stella Perry as Magenta and Darcey Eagle as Columbia, both incredible vocalists. During the number, I was looking around the venue to see heads bopping along to the beat and I too was fighting the urge to jump out of my seat and ‘do the time warp’ with them.
Finally, the moment we had all been waiting for, the first appearance of Frank’n’Furter with the number ‘Sweet Transvestite’. Portrayed by the legendary Jason Donovan. 25 years after he first donned the corset during the 1998 UK Tour production, Donovan returns to the role with force. From the moment he entered the stage, Donovan had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. He is everything I have come to expect from Frank’n’Furter and more. Donovan is devilishly cheeky, super playful, unapologetically naughty, sexy as hell, and has the fierce vocals to match. I would go as far as to saying that Jason Donovan is the perfect Frank’n’Furter.
Of course, Rocky Horror wouldn’t be complete without Rocky. Portrayed by Loredo Malcolm, I couldn’t have asked for a better casting. Not only does Malcolm have the ripped physique to match Frank’n’Furter’s vision of the perfect creation, but he also has a sweet an innocent nature, his body language and facial expressions speak volumes often when he has no dialogue and there is a sincerity to his performance in the portrayal. Rocky isn’t sure what he is supposed to be, and Malcolm expertly brings this vulnerable side to the character to life. There is also the more brutish half of the creation with Ellis Dolan as Eddie who wows the crowd with the fantastic rock number ‘Hot Patootie’.
The entire company of Rocky Horror have their own shining moments, but none stand out more than the solos from Brad and Janet that take part in the second act. Ethan Jones is sweet, innocent, and dorky as Brad. His awkward nature is shown throughout his portrayal of the character. Jones also lets the wild side in ever so gently as Brad slowly discovers himself at the hands of Frank’n’Furter. His solo performance of ‘Once in a While’ sees his vocals beautifully and effortlessly soar to the back of the theatre.
Deirdre Khoo is phenomenal in the role of Janet. Starting out as sweet and innocent much like her on-stage partner, Khoo exudes confidence. She is sexy and powerful, and the transformation of the character is highlighted with her own solo number, ‘Touch-A Touch-A Touch Me’ with a vocal performance that blew my socks off! Khoo is definitely the sassiest and most vocally powerful Janet I have ever seen, and she makes the role her own. I couldn’t help but cheer for her! Khoo and Jones are the perfect pair as Janet and Brad. Their chemistry is natural and funny, almost as if they have been in these roles their whole careers.
Of course, the production isn’t complete without the fantastic creatives behind the scenes. Hugh Durrant has done a phenomenal job in adapting the set to the tight-nit Athenaeum Theatre stage. The costumes from Sue Blane and sound from Gareth Owen are also just a good. But the biggest stand out for me would have to be the lighting design from Nick Richings that really brings the intimate space to life. Having seen the production in both The Comedy Theatre and Her Majesty’s Theatre, Rocky Horror feels right at home at the Athenaeum. Perhaps it’s the old bones of the theatre that match the vibe of the show but it just feels right!
The 50th anniversary return of Rocky Horror might just be my favourite version of this musical. Everything about it is fantastic. One major call out is how diverse the cast is. Proving that it doesn’t matter what the character is supposed to look like, if you have the skills as a performer to pull it off, then you are more than deserving.
It is also evident that the entire cast are just having the time of their lives, and this translates well into their performances which only enriches the experience for everyone in the room. Just give Rocky Horror Show one night of your lives and you will see what I mean! This is one production you don’t want to miss!
Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show is on now at Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre with performances running through to the 30th of July. The actual 50th anniversary also occurs during the Melbourne leg on the 18th of June. Following Melbourne, the production heads to Perth, Gold Coast and then Canberra.