It was a year ago that I saw the 40th Anniversary of The Rocky Horror Show at the Comedy Theatre and now it is back for another run with Craig McLachlan again strutting and pouting and dominating the stage as few can. He reprises his role of Dr Frank N Furter, which he not only played 12 months ago, but in the 1992 Australian production. McLachlan is sensational as he hams it up, camps it up and shamelessly milks his audience appeal, drawing out his affectations as far as he can … and then some. He is the gilt-edged star who had the crowd cheering wildly.
His reception is only matched by Bert Newton, when he enters as the urbane narrator. Mind you, the show is so familiar the audience stays mighty excited throughout.
The Rocky Horror Show is a tribute to the science fiction and B-grade horror movies of the late 1940s through to the early 1970s. It tells the story of an innocent, newly engaged couple that gets caught in a storm and ends up outside the home of a mad transvestite scientist. In front of them, Dr Frank N Furter unveils his new creation, a muscle man, a perfect physical specimen named Rocky Horror.
The music, lyrics and the book are by Richard O’Brien. According to Wikipedia, as an out-of-work actor, O’Brien wrote The Rocky Horror Show to keep himself busy on winter evenings. O’Brien took a small amount of his unfinished work to Australian director Jim Sharman, who decided he wanted to direct it at the small experimental space upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre in Chelsea in the UK. Sharman had received some success with the original Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar, during which he met O’Brien, who played King Herod for just one performance. After opening on 19 June 1973, The Rocky Horror Show developed a cult following. It moved from the Royal Court to several other locations, finally closing on 13 September 1980, after notching up 2,960 performances and winning the 1973 Evening Standard Award for Best Musical.
Harry M. Miller produced the original Sydney production of Rocky Horror, which opened on 15 April 1974, running for almost two years in the New Arts Cinema (formerly The Astor, later The Valhalla and now an office building) in Glebe. It starred Reg Livermore, Jane Harders, Kate Fitzpatrick, Arthur Dignam, Sal Sharah, John Paramor, Graham Matters, Bob Hudson and Maureen Elkner. After a year and a half in Sydney, the show moved to Melbourne, where it opened at the Regent Palace Theatre in October 1975. It ran for another 18 months and 458 performances, finally closing in May 1977. The Melbourne production starred Max Phipps as Frank N Furter. Other involved were Joan Brockenshire as Magenta, Clive Blackie as Rocky and Shirley Anne Kear as Janet.
In Rocky Horror circa 2015, I was particularly taken by the energy and polish of Kristian Lavercombe as Riff Raff, a role he also filled last year. The torso of Brendan Irving shows no signs of wear and tear as the muscle-bound Rocky. Nicholas Christo is back as Eddie and Dr Scott. Of course those in the know are just waiting until late in the piece when Scott reveals his pins and garters. There have been quite a few changes too to the 13-strong cast since the production was last staged here. The pivotol roles of Brad and Janet – the naïve young couple caught up in a situation they don’t understand – lie with Stephen Mahy (Grease, Jersey Boys) and Amy Lehpamer (Once, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels). Angelique Cassimatis is Columbia, while Jayde Westaby is Magenta and the usherette.
If anything, this was an even more sexually charged show than I remember it. It positively oozed suggestiveness at every opportunity, with Frank N Furter’s bisexuality worn as a badge of honour. Sitting there watching, the expression “it would make a nun blush” suddenly popped into my head. Let’s put it this way, I don’t think I would want a child under 10 or 11 (and, in some cases, even older) to be watching it, notwithstanding how much fun it is … and there is no doubt it brings a buckets full of pleasure (pun fully intended) to the assembled.
The fact that the music is so recognisable makes the experience so much richer because your feet are tapping and you are all but singing along with the cast. Eight songs in the first act include Science Fiction, Damn It Janet, Over at the Frankenstein’s Place, The Time Warp, Sweet Transvestite, The Sword of Damocles, I Can Make You A Man (plus a reprise of this) and Hot Patootie. After interval we are fed another seven numbers such as Touch-A-Touch-A Touch Me, Once In A While, Eddie’s Teddy, Planet Schmanet and Going Home. The production wouldn’t be compete though with getting a further dose of Science Fiction, Time Warp and Sweet Transvestite.
The Rocky Horror Show, which features a dynamic five piece band, has a running time of a touch over two hours and remains marvellous, outrageous, silly, saucy, popcorn entertainment. Craig McLachlan has us eating out of the palms of his hands, catcalling and wolf whistling for more.
Director Christopher Luscombe, cast and crew, take a bow.
Venue: Comedy Theatre, Melbourne
Dates: 11 June – 12 July 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television