Published on February 12th, 2024 | by Rob Mammone

Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show Musical Review

The combination of science fiction and horror movies from the 1930s to the 1960s that inspired creator Richard O’Brien, with a heady mix of high camp means that it is hard to overstate the cultural impact of the Rocky Horror Show. Whether it is the almost 3000 performances of its original run in the United Kingdom during the 1970s, to the seminal, groundbreaking movie adaptation that brought the Time Warp to a generation of moviegoers, or the productions that have been mounted in over 30 countries around the world, to the sexual politics and depictions within it that prefigured the progress made in the last twenty years for LGBTQIA+ people, Rocky Horror Show is a production that demands to be seen.

I was fortunate to receive tickets to the opening night here in Melbourne at the Athenaeum Theatre and what an opening night! Stars of stage and screen and other celebrities were in attendance, adding a touch of glamour to the buzz felt by the rest of us as we settled ourselves into our sets in anticipation of the show to come. The intimate confines of the theatre were perfect in bringing the sellout audience close to the stage, allowing us to appreciate the visuals and the music to their fullest.

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Jason Donovan is back following the 50th anniversary season as Doctor Frank-n-Furter. Australians of a certain vintage will well remember his star turning role as Jason in Neighbours and his transformation into a pop idol in the late 80s, where he dominated the charts here and in the UK. It turns out that this was no fluke – Donovan commands the stage with his vocal ability, as well his stage presence. As Frank-N-Furter, he’s never over the top, or at least, he dances up the line before dancing back again. I’ve seen Donovan in several performances over the years, but he was made for this role. For every second he is on stage, he has the audience in his hands – his performance is playful and funny, and as I mentioned before, he really does an excellent job vocally. It can’t be easy combining singing, acting and moving about the stage, but Donovan manages it with aplomb – he’s a real class act and anchors the rest of the cast.

A real delight for me was watching Joel Creasy as the Narrator. Like most of those reading this, I’ve avidly followed his career as he spread his wings from stand up comedy, to radio and television presenting. The Narrator role can’t just be a straight reading of the script – it has to be lively, knowing and amusing all in one. His performance in the 2020 one man play The Boy was no one off, and demonstrated his ability to command the stage. In Rocky Horror Show, he brings all his wit and guile to the Narrator. Couple that with his willingness, in fact, eagerness, to engage with the audience in a bit of back and forth, lacing it with local references to spice up the script, and you have a really winning performance that warrants repeat viewing.

The other performers were top notch. I particularly enjoyed Henry Rollo as Riff Raff. This young performer has a fantastic vocal range, which he employs to its fullest on stage. The makeup team did a wonderful job bringing the character of the alien hunchback to life, and his performance was reminiscent of Richard O’Briens.

Blake Bowden and Deirdre Khoo bring to life the ingenue’s Brad and Janet, who find themselves falling into the Frank-N-Furter’s clutches. Both bring extensive theatre experience to their roles, which see their transformation from All-American boy and girl to the sexually adventurous, raunchy characters the audience saw at the end. The bedroom scene between Brad, Janet and Frank-n-Furter was one of the highlights of the show, a real show stopper that had the audience in stitches.

Bowden’s appearance in feather boa and fishnets is a particular highlight, and just goes to show how eye opening and itself adventurous the production was back in the 1970s. Bowden’s voice is really lovely, while Khoo, with her years of stage experience, brought a theatrical tone to her singing that suits the role and the performance.

It’s hard to overstate how good this production of Rocky Horror Show is. The Athenaeum Theatre is the right fit for this production – the caste setting means the production doesn’t require a vast expanse of stage to bring the story to life. This allows the audience to get really close to all the action as it unfolds on stage, which allowed us to experience the vibrancy, excitement and talent of the cast. Hats off to the everyone behind the scenes who help bring Rocky Horror Show to life, with the lighting, music, choreography and staging. This production of Rocky Horror Show really is a must see. For fifty years it has excited and entertained audiences across the globe and I feel confident that if future productions are of the caliber I had the pleasure of witnessing tonight, then it will last for another fifty years – at least!

For more information please visit photos (Sydney Produection) from Daniel Boud

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