What a difference the right star makes. Jason Donovan astonishes as a kookily unhinged Frank N Furter, single-handedly justifying the umpteenth return of the iconic cult-turned-mainstream hit Rocky Horror Show.
Much as the website trumpets a “brand-new Australia production”, this is the just same simplistic UK staging of Rocky Horror Show seen here in 2014 and 2015. Of course, the entire cast is new but direction and design remain the same, with perhaps just an extra polish for the snazzy lighting and crisp sound design. The band, led by musical director Jack Earle, sounds terrific and vocals are just as strong.
The production benefits from its current Melbourne home at the Athenaeum Theatre, a house that rarely sees a commercial musical season but provides the ideal characterful ambience for Rocky Horror Show. Seated on three levels, the audience feels satisfying close to the succulently salacious on-stage action.
The occasion of the 50th anniversary of the original production of Rocky Horror Show is certainly a landmark occasion to be celebrated. While the sexual antics now seem comparatively tame compared to many a Netflix series, there is no doubting the lasting affection for the results of Richard O’Brien’s mighty achievement in penning the book, music and lyrics for the show.
The juxtaposition of sheltered suburbanites with decadent deviants provides an evergreen spring of comedy, the conflict having an additional layer of humour at this time of burgeoning newfound conservatism. Perhaps Frank N Furter has the solution and antidote for us all with his call to “give yourself over to absolute pleasure.”
The production starts timidly but swiftly hits full gear with Donovan’s entrance as that sweet transvestite, Frank N Furter. Donovan conveys what can only be described as an air of genuine danger; we all know the show and yet there is the sense that anything could happen next. Respecting the role as a serious characterisation, Donovan unleashes wicked sexual sparks, delivers authentic laughs and gasps, and concludes the story with real pathos. A team player, Donovan is the starry centre of the cast and yet freely and generously shines his light upon his fellow castmates.
The ensemble cast may be otherwise short on marquee names but is impressibly high on talent.
Ethan Jones and Deirdre Khoo delight as corruptible lovebirds Brad and Janet, both blessed with gorgeous musical theatre voices.
Henry Rollo is devilishly sinister as Riff Raff, breaking out a compelling contrast in the musical’s climactic scene. Darcey Eagle is a living kewpie doll as Columbia, stealing a couple of key moments with pure and focused stage energy. Stellar Perry brings a unique presence to the sullen Magenta.
As Rocky Horror himself, it is a great asset to have an actual music theatre performer in the role; Loredo Malcolm skilfully makes Rocky much more than the usual hunky eye candy. Ellis Dolan brings raw vocal energy and ready charisma to the dual featured roles of Eddy and Dr Scott.
As with previous performances of this production, the tiny ensemble of Phantoms find themselves in the thankless position of often singing off-stage, moving sets and props, and being unrecognisable under thick black make-up highlights and wigs.
The lone disappointment of the cast is Myf Warhurst as The Narrator. Miscast to begin with, Warhurst makes matters worse with smugly self-indulgent, completely unfunny audience interaction, sapping the energy with her every appearance.
The performance of Jason Donovan as Frank N Furter is easily worth the price of admission to Rocky Horror Show. Catch him while you can.
Rocky Horror Show plays at Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne until 30 July 2023. For tickets, click here.
Rocky Horror Show plays at Crown Theatre, Perth from 6 August 2023. For tickets, click here.
Rocky Horror Show plays at The Star Gold Coast, Broadbeach from 3 September 2023. For tickets, click here.
Rocky Horror Show plays at Canberra Theatre Centre from 29 September 2023. For tickets, click here.
Note: In Perth, Gold Coast, Canberra, and the final three weeks in Melbourne, Frank N Furterwill be played by three-time Olivier Award-winning UK star David Bedella.
Nicholas Hammond will take on the role of The Narrator in Perth, Gold Coast, and Canberra.
Photos: Daniel Boud
Categories: Music Theatre, Reviews
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