The Rocky Horror Show Review – Jason Donovan is a fresh and flirty Frank-N-Furter

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<p><figcaption class=Jason Donovan puts ‘a lot of himself into keeping things fresh’ as ​​Frank-N-Furter in the Rocky Horror Show.Photo: Daniel Boud

The Rocky Horror Show made its debut upstairs at London’s Royal Court Theater in 1973, but here in Australia, its stubborn, decades-long success takes national pride: we call it our own.

It’s a fair shout: Jim Sharman, who ushered in a new era of musicals with his influential Australian productions of Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar in the 70s, directed his first outing. He later directed the 1975 film adaptation, which he also co-wrote with O’Brien, as well as its sequel, Shock Treatment.

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The stage and screen productions were designed by Sharman’s regular Tony and Helpmann award-winning collaborator – and tour designer Kylie Minogue – Brian Thomson. And then, of course, there’s Australian Nell Campell, AKA Little Nell, who established the role of Columbia on both stage and screen, tap-dancing her way into the nation’s heart.

But it’s a long time to be a 50-year-old rebel, and we miss our old girl, who lovingly spoofs B-movies to tell the story of a conservative couple who stumble upon a sexy, Frankenstein-y party (hosted by aliens – see, you are there. for the vibe, not for the integrity of the stories) there are some creaky bones. We’re now up to midnight music times, and packed with a lively, raunchy audience of re-attendants: this 50th anniversary tour, directed by Christopher Luscombe, kicked off its opening night in Sydney at a sensible 7pm.

Horror is hard to avoid: it comes in part with the natural passage of time. Her profanity-laced language has not changed with the culture around her and is out of date. The show’s most passionate fans have aged with the show, and with such a dedicated fanbase built-in, there’s less creative hunger to change the formula and try to find real impact in the sexual liberation of the fishnets-and-garters variety—not to mention any desire to look too closely at our growing and nascent understanding of gender fluidity and performance.

This performance also bears some new psychic scars. This is the first time Rocky Horror has toured nationally since 2014, a production that led to a series of allegations of sexual assault and misconduct against Craig McLachlan, who denied the claims and was acquitted of indecent assault charges in 2020.

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Given all this, can we still have fun?

Mostly, yes. More lived-in, naturally, than the revival’s first season in Sydney in February 2023, there’s an ease of joy and playfulness that keeps the cast energized – and their opening-night audiences erupted in a series of quick cheers after each number. .

The show’s narrator is a vital part of setting the tone: they encourage the audience to scream and clap, and they have to engage in audience participation, which began with cult films and crossed over to the stage. When a storyteller can renew the energy, it can imbue the show with new life.

This production has already hosted a series of narrators, including Myf Warhurst from Spicks and Specks, Nicholas Hammond from The Sound of Music and comedian Joel Creasey; co-driver Pete Helliar will take over the role from 18 April. For now, however, Dylan Alcott is in the role, and the Golden Slam tennis star is a welcome surprise.

Many stunt-cast athletes are gritted-teeth shows, but Alcott has a funny and desirable stage presence and can glance back with an easy one-liner – and he gets a few extra jokes in, too. We are in good hands.

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Because Brad and Janet, Blake Bowden and Deidre Khoo are a well-matched pair: both actors have a triumphant approach to their most demanding scenes that makes their later adventures feel like an inevitability. Darcy Eagle adds an elegant vulnerability to the Columbia that, even in this fast-paced performance (this opera doesn’t allow a millisecond of dead air) feels deserved.

Henry Rollo just walks away with the show as Riff-Raff – bringing back rock in a musical that can’t stop singing about rock’n’roll. Richard Hartley’s original musical arrangements sound bomb here and, along with Nick Richings’ lighting design, keep the party going.

And then there’s Jason Donovan. With a little sweetness and a lot of flirtation, the Neighbors one-time heartthrob tackles Frank-N-Furter with a performance that pays just enough homage to Tim Curry’s now-iconic film performance to hit the familiar beats the audience craves. , but he puts a lot of effort into keeping things fresh.

Re-watching this production, it’s hard not to wonder what new creative hands could have – what new depth, commentary or inspiration we could find in the show if we could interrogate it from new queer perspectives and trans, with an approach that challenged. the conservative sexism and moral panic we face in 2024, especially with growing transphobia in Australia and overseas.

But this production, like Frank, is just here to bring something back to life, built to specifications, made for pleasure and companionship. Looking at this show through the lens of what it is, and not what we might want to be, the best thing about it is the sense that Frank and his other companions in the world in a friend of ours When they break the fourth wall to blow kisses or make faces at us, it’s a reminder that we’re awake and alive too; it makes us feel a little sexy, fun and exciting too. Not bad for 7pm on a Wednesday.

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