Despite its references being a bit more inclined to the era it was created in, The Rocky Horror Show has proven to be timeless in its appeal, resonating with audiences across multiple generations due to its captivating characters, catchy rock-n-roll tunes, and avant-garde themes. It is a musical that I will take every chance to attend when it does the rounds of Australia, and this month, it is even closer to home, subverting its usual Brisbane season and favouring a multi-week run at The Star Gold Coast. But while at its core, the musical is just as good as it always is, the choice in casting, a few minor deviations from the norm and a slightly revamped set made it arguably one of the best Australian national tours of Rocky Horror I have attended yet. So… I would like if I may… to take you on a review of this strange journey, celebrating the production’s 50th anniversary in all the right ways.
When you think of musical productions that will stand the test of time, you may think of the likes of Les Miserables or Disney’s The Lion King – works that are so tightly and intricately structured that they have a timeless air to them. While The Rocky Horror Show may not initially seem to fit that bill, it has undoubtedly carved out its own unique space in the pantheon of classic musicals that I can easily see myself attending the 100th-anniversary celebrations of. From simple roots of a naïve couple getting engaged in the mid-1970s, viewers are whisked away to a world of sensuality, debauchery and intrigue – becoming guests of the promiscuous and flamboyant Frank-n-Furter and their equally unique servants, witnessing the birth of his ‘creature of the night’ and the events that follow afterwards. The combination of campiness, rock-n-roll music and unabashedly eccentric characters, continues to shine on-stage during the show’s precisely 2-hour runtime (a big plus for those still looking for an early night), with its concepts and challenges of then-societal norms continuing to shine through, even in a 21st-century musicals market where sexual-orientation receives the attention it deserves.
This would be the third national tour of The Rocky Horror Show I have attended a performance of to date. I reviewed the 2015 production – my ‘virgin’ encounter with the musical – and had two major qualms with it – the pacing felt very rushed and the vocals during songs were drowned out by the music on many occasions. This was somewhat managed better in the 2018 production and was well and truly mitigated in this 50th-anniversary production. The music was crisp, the vocals were clear and overall the elocution and delivery of the quintessential Rocky Horror experience was on-point. And somehow, even though the show didn’t run for any longer, the whole experience gave the impression of being much better paced.
At the end of the day, the most important role in The Rocky Horror Show to fill is Frank ‘n’ Furter, with their seductive and hedonistic nature carrying the story for a good chunk of it. For a majority of the 2018 production’s inaugural Australian tour, this was undertaken by a relative newcomer Adam Rennie. Was he a bit of an unconventional choice of Frank ‘n’ Furter, a little bit – being a bit younger than others who would typically fill the role? However, his flair and personality shone through, providing a more-than-enjoyable and unique take on the character – especially with them moving from understudy to lead at a moment’s notice. I was hoping they would choose another out-there, non-celebrity Australian talent to fill the roles, hoping for another gem. Sadly they didn’t. Fortunately, and rather fitting considering this is the show’s 50th anniversary, they opted to bring David Bedella from London’s West End for the tour – who has been involved not only in past international productions of the musical but also the 2015 Live Recorded version beamed worldwide. While clips of him performing in the role are available online, it is clear that Bedella continues to develop and craft his role as Frank, and showed such amazing chemistry with their fellow cast members, and the audience. If you have seen the live recorded version, don’t worry, you won’t just get a recreation of that performance, but something I would argue is better.
With the other lead cast members in productions, it sometimes feels like performers focus on replicating the mannerisms of the characters depicted in the original musical film, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This is by no means a bad thing. The casting of this 50th Anniversary Australian Production opts to be not only a lot more inclusive with their casting decisions but also doesn’t have cast members fill the typecast personalities of their characters. Brad (portrayed by Ethan Jones) is a little less nerdy and awkward while Riff Raff (portrayed by Henry Rollo) doesn’t rely on vocals so much to give an air of mystery, instead incorporating more choreographed actions. Rocky (portrayed by Loredo Malcolm) was also a little more robotic and appeared as if his character was getting a little more “human” as the show progressed, and was also an incredible choice overall for the titular character.
While these are the three main differences I picked up, and some may consider it a more ‘vanilla’ interpretation of their characters, I found these changes (and other minor alterations across the cast – including Stellar Perry as Magenta, Deirdre Khoo as Janet, Darcey Eagle as Columbia, and Ellis Dolan as Eddie/Dr Scott) had some significant benefits. Firstly, their elocution was so much better, and both during songs and dialogue scenes – it was never unclear what each character was saying. Secondly, it felt as if they were making their characters their own just that little bit, with added flair and engagement with each other on-stage which was a welcome touch. Nothing that would change one’s impression of a character, but instead helping set their production apart from others.
Finally, we have the role of The Narrator. Typically filled by a celebrity appearance – like the late Bert Newton and Cameron Daddo in the 2015 and 2018 productions respectively – this time they opted to go with stage and film icon Nicholas Hammond. -claps-, such a perfect choice for the role, with a level of flair indicating his comfort in the role, with good audience interactivity in the few moments comments were shouted out. The Narrator plays an important albeit minor role in the musical, and having him show gusto and enthusiasm every time he takes to the stage shows he is a perfect fit – instead of just standing there as if he was reading from his book.
The set design hasn’t changed much from the standard Rocky Horror set that other national Australian tours, and international tours, favour. However, there were a few notable alterations from previous iterations. I would argue the biggest change was the more versatile LED lighting setup at the top of the stage, which shone during several of the numbers (including the always amazing encore performances). Plus they appear to have a new curtain, as during the 2018 Brisbane production it was looking a little frayed.
There are quintessential elements to a production of The Rocky Horror Show that you cannot do without – including the sensual and sometimes garish costumes, the well-choreographed dances, and the iconic songs such as Time Warp, Sweet Transvestite and Wild and Untamed Thing that may never fully leave your head once hearing them. This production nailed these core elements and the casting perfectly. But even more than that, the Gold Coast community also delivered. A fundamental aspect of the Rocky Horror experience, amplified by its cult-like reputation in media, revolves around the community’s inclination to dress elaborately, unite in camaraderie, and transform a night (or afternoon) at the theatre into an immersive affair. Will you see some still attending the show in formal wear? Of course. But even more will attend wearing whatever they are comfortable in, and even dressing up as characters and concepts from the show – musical or musical film version. The musical can be enjoyed while dressed in any manner, and audience participation takes on diverse forms (granted, some nights quieter than others), yet still fostering an atmosphere of unrestrained creativity. Whether you choose to do so during your ‘virgin’ performance, a subsequent performance or at all is up to you – and is one of the ways that The Rocky Horror Show continues the norms of theatre.
The Rocky Horror Show will probably not be the musical receiving a Best Musical of All Time award, and for those after narrative and a sophisticated experience you will find much elsewhere. However, the show continues to be one of those exemplar experiences of where you can go into a performance your first time or tenth, and have an amazing time with friends, family or by yourself. And fortunately building upon this solid foundation, is casting and production values which are outstanding. It is a show I will envision seeing routinely for the rest of my life, as different performers flow in and out of the roles. But… it will be a challenge to beat this offering.
Tickets to the Gold Coast Opening Night of The Rocky Horror Show at The Star Gold Coast were kindly provided by the show’s Australian producers and the show’s Queensland publicity team at Cinnamon Watson Publicity for the purpose of this review.
For more information on how to book tickets, visit the show’s official website. Keep in mind that the Gold Coast season is running for a slightly shorter run than you might typically expect, to conclude on 23 September 2023 pending any potential extension. Unfortunately, at least as of writing, this is set to be the final leg in the show’s 2023 tour.