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 The Rocky Horror Show
National Business Review review, 22 November 2002



Touring Theatre: Rocky rocks on, still strong after all these years
John Daly-Peoples
By Richard O'Brien
Auckland Theatre Company
Sky City Theatre, Auckland
Until December 14
The Opera House, Wellington
From January 23

Some time ago Jesus Christ came to save us from sin and perdition. More recently Frank 'N' Furter came to redress the imbalance. The Rocky Horror Show is the tale of that latter-day prophet and his short time among us.

Richard O'Brien's clever morality play, wrapped in a science-fiction tale, may have started life as a whimsical frolic but it has spawned a cult movie and the musical continues to take on new relevance both about the 1970s and our changing moral attitudes.

The story involves young couple Brad Major (Roy Stone) and Janet Weiss (Sophia Hawthorne) whose car breaks down one dark and stormy night. They seek refuge in a nearby castle (actually an alien spaceship) of the Transylvanian transvestite Frank 'N' Furter who takes them on a journey of eerie and exciting eroticism.

We are introduced to Frank 'N' Furter's crew of suitably attired aliens in leather, chains and sequins and witness the creation of Rocky, the ultimate sex toy who, much to Frank 'N' Furter's disgust, is more interested in boys than girls (that may be the moral).

In Mary Shelley's original horror story Frankenstein wanted to create a perfect human being with all the best human qualities. Frank 'N' Furter wants the same sort of companion for himself but rather than social and moral values prefers someone to cater to his sexual needs.

The message Frank 'N' Furter brings is that we need to encourage an open and honest approach to sexuality. This is the key to the transformation of society or at least a great way to party. Indulge in hedonistic activities and everything will be all right.

Unfortunately in The Rocky Horror Show the forces of despotism and oppression win, Frank 'N' Furter dies and Brad and Janet presumably go off to have a normal life of repressed sexuality.

Simon Prast's stylish production opens with a long sequence from The Day the Earth Stood Still, the science-fiction movie referred to in the opening number. It is a 1950s film of flying saucers and aliens which strongly - for the time - had a pacifist message, with the aliens warning earthlings of the dangers of continuing to war against each other.

Despite its weakness, Rocky is a great 20th century musical and the music is still strong after all these years. It is hard-driving, foot-stomping and energising with lyrics that are brilliantly obscure and obscene. Some of the songs, such as Science Fiction and Time Warp, have become classics and now seem to have a real contemporary feel and relevance.

The balance between music and singing was generally on the musician's side. There was probably an assumption that everyone knew the lyrics, that they were fairly inconsequential anyway or that it's a rock opera and no-one can decipher the words anyway.

The use of the high-tech head microphones should have given the cast a sci-fi look but their appearance was more that of call centre staff and enabled some of the actors, notably Mikey Havoc as Eddie, to garble their words.

Havoc's entry on a motorbike and his exit with an axe in his head were the best part of his appearance as Eddie, but later as Dr Scott his presentation of a latter-day Adolf Hitler on a mobility scooter was stylish.

As Riff Raff, Michael Hurst was a mixture of comic brilliance and brutish sycophancy.

As Brad, Roy Snow gave a convincing performance of a disoriented nerd. His singing conveyed all the shock and bewilderment of his encounter with an alien erotic world.

Sophia Hawthorne gave a chic little performance as the naive sophisticate Janet but her voice rarely seemed to match her acting and her singing of I Want to Get Dirty lacked the necessary raunchiness.

Bella Kalolo and Jason Te Patu as the leather-bound usherettes who open the show were knockout performers with huge voices and dramatic presences.

As the Narrator, Craig Parker was at his Man in Black teflon best, sliding between scenes with his pithy little comments.

Joel Tobeck's Frank 'N' Furter is all you could ask for in a crossdressing transvestite with a voice with a seductive edge. When he sang it was like listening to a slightly camp fallen angel.

John Parker's set is one of his least successful of recent years. In trying to achieve a 1950s sci-fi high-tech look it misses out on being tawdry, decadent and sexy, which is more to the point.

Simon Prast has created a version of gender bending at its best, showing cross-dressing can be a worthwhile occupation.


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