Review By Lisa Lanzi
I have to admit it, I’ve always been a fan of this show and the movie with Tim Curry as the definitive Frank N Furter - my first exposure to the show as a young teen - has been difficult to top. The last stage incarnation of the show in 2013/14 with a lead who shall remain nameless was pretty fine - surprisingly fine even. However, I’m now going to put myself out there and claim David Bedella’s witty, sexy, salacious Frank to be the best I’ve seen on stage. Then there was the icing on the cake - or perhaps the ‘cherry’ on top! - at opening night: Richard O’Brien’s cameo appearances. For the Rocky H ‘virgins’ out there, O’Brien is the creator/writer and original Riff Raff character.
Rocky Horror has been ‘thrilling, chilling and fulfilling’ fans for fifty years now and this production has really hit the mark. From a tiny space at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 1973 until now, this show has been seen by some 30 million people worldwide and boasts a cult-like fan base. Again for the ‘virgins’, the story is a magical conglomeration of Hansel and Gretel, every B-grade, schlock sci-fi/monster film ever made, 50s pop and rock, the Frankenstein story, and a kind of ecstatic ‘alien worship’ sect. In addition to the deliberately designed homage content, the show is hailed as a breakthrough work where gender difference, sexual preferences, and gay pride were on view and celebrated. Larry Viezel, president of The Rocky Horror Picture Show Official Fan Club, has stated “I know of a lot of people whose lives were saved by this movie. Especially for those in the LGBT community, it’s a place where they could be themselves and find people who were their family…” Little Nell, the original Columbia, has said that she heard many similar tales from fans.
Back to 2023 though! Every vastly talented cast member gave their all in this version and the energy was electric. Brad and Janet are disarmingly cute/annoying (as they should be) but Ethan Jones and Deidre Khoo are fantastic vocally and perfectly pinpoint the journey for their characters. Stellar Perry was a fearless Magenta (plus the sweet, star-struck Usherette) and paired well with Henry Rollo’s dynamic, slightly crazed Riff Raff. Darcey Eagles gave us a funny, fragile Columbia and Ellis Dolan was thrilling as Eddie and decidedly droll as Dr Scott. Loredo Malcolm stopped a few hearts with his remarkably toned physique, astonishing acro moves and strong vocals but also gave his Rocky a more deliciously snarkier flavour than is usual. Myf Warhurst was a responsive Narrator, gracing classic and updated audience call-outs with some fine rejoinders. However, the anachronistic, sarcastic class and gravitas this character usually provides was sadly missing and her energy did not quite match the rest of the cast.
I also want to acknowledge the ‘phantoms’ Josh Gates, Catty Hamilton, Jackson Reedman, and Erica Wild. These roles were fashioned somewhat differently to the usual ‘party guest’ image and worked beautifully within the updated style and look of this production. The four were perfection from backing vocals to dance moves plus their reactions within each scene: simply flawless. The onstage, elevated band was also a high point providing impeccable, complementary accompaniment and adding another layer of vitality to the whole.
The tight direction, pacing, and choreography was a standout for me. Director Christopher Luscombe has a long and fascinating relationship with this musical (definitely worth a read if you are interested!) and his regard for the work shines through. Much-awarded choreographer Nathan M Wright has updated the movement with due reverence, and injected a different, more polished and welcome vibe. Hugh Durrant’s set is also a refreshed, somewhat cartoonish version for this run and is a perfect backdrop for the madness. The lighting design from Nick Richings is creative and visionary without being distracting and the curved, impressionistic celluloid film strip that floats above the stage and in front of the band is a fabulous link between the stage and film version. The play of narrow pin-spot beams upon Frank N Furter during his entrance and song “Sweet Transvestite” is pure magic.
When I heard about this remount for the 50th anniversary of Rocky Horror I was sceptical and a little concerned that perhaps the show might have had its time. I am so very happy to admit how wrong I was! Additionally, the antici…. PATION of ‘meeting’, and yes evaluating, a new Frank N Furter was excruciating. I can only imagine how daunting it would be to embrace this role given the success and illustrious history of the character. But thank you David Bedella for such a finely wrought, immaculately-voiced delivery - I could listen to this charismatic performer’s voice anytime and have already sought out his In The Heights reels. The character was brought to life for me all over again, and then some. As an actor too, Bedella was extraordinary. To be so immersed in the role and yet fully aware of the whole that the character flow never faltered - his ‘bless you’ to a sneezing audience member in the midst of Frank’s dialogue was a tiny, crazy but genius moment that made my acting brain cells sit up and applaud.
If you have never seen this show - now is the time to go. If you are a lifelong fan, I am fairly certain you will not be disappointed. It is the whole package given a reinvigorated, delightful spark.