Venue: Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), from Apr 11, 2015
Music, lyrics and book: Richard O’Brien
Director: Chris Luscombe
Choreographer: Nathan Wright
Cast: Angelique Cassimatis, Nicholas Christo, Brendan Irving, Kristian Lavercombe, Amy Lehpamer, Stephen Mahy, Craig McLachlan, Bert Newton, Jayde Westaby
The Rocky Horror musical and its Australian star are icons within their own realms. They have their loyal followings, all coming with fixed expectations that have been cultivated from years of interaction and fandom. There is nothing at all that is unpredictable in this particular incarnation. Richard O’Brien’s material has dated and Craig McLachlan is no shinier a star than he was thirty years ago, but no ticket holder anticipates seeing anything out of the ordinary, other than a very well iterated version of the usual fare.
The production provides as much colour and fun as a dvd viewing of the 1975 film could deliver. Things feel old-fashioned but charming, and while we no longer respond to the show’s shock factor, its kitsch value is still unique and remarkable. The gender and sexual subversion that is fundamental to Rocky Horror‘s success is now passé and much too mild to resonate with the same sense of danger experienced four decades ago, but it provides context for very blue comedy, which this particular Dr. Frank N. Furter does not shy away from. McLachlan’s comic timing is not the key to his enduring popularity, but his determination and exceptional commitment to the stage carries an infectious joy that allows the two hour show to occur in the blink of an eye. The performer leads the cast with an exuberant and playful energy, but lacks the elegance of Tim Curry’s legendary rendition on celluloid. McLachlan’s singing is surprisingly strong, but the more memorable numbers are presented by Amy Lehpamer (Janet Weiss) and Kristian Lavercombe (Riff Raff), who impress with a kind of polish specific to stars of musical theatre, complete with piercing, unwavering vocals and irresistible pizzazz that entertains all from front row up to the nosebleeds.
Theatre, like life, needs occasional lashings of frivolity to provide some balance to the inevitable gloominess that afflicts everyone from time to time. Janet and Brad go through a profound metamorphosis in the story, having seen things that were previously unimaginable, and come away with lessons that are unfathomable to many. Some of us hope for that kind of poignancy every time we devote time and money to the arts, but others prefer to leave the auditorium with nothing more than a few laughs and several delightful song and dance sequences. Rocky Horror Show is lightweight but it does not pretend to be anything much more, and if Frank N Furter has lost his edge, we should probably be grateful that androgyny and gender fluidity is no longer an effective freak show centrepiece.