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Live Review: THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW @ Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne

29 May 2023 | 2:19 pm | Bryget Chrisfield

Frank N Furter’s famous quote, “Give yourselves over to absolute pleasure,” is exactly how audience members should approach Rocky Horror Show.

Jason Donovan

Jason Donovan (Photo Credit: Daniel Boud)

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The 50th anniversary production of Rocky Horror Show, Richard O’Brien’s cult-classic musical comedy (and parody of B-movies), is owned by Jason Donovan as Frank N Furter, the Sweet Transvestite; his performance alone is worth the ticket price.

No stranger to starring in hit musical theatre shows – he played the titular role in London Palladium’s staging of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, which enjoyed a record-breaking run in the early '90s – Donovan completely pulls focus whenever he’s onstage. Having also played Frank N Furter in the UK for Rocky Horror Show’s 25th-anniversary tour, Donovan once again rocks the fishnets, platform heels, leather corset, bobbed brunette wig and OTT makeup to reprise this role and is so convincing it’s kinda terrifying. Vocally, he’s flawless, and Donovan’s considered facial expressions and gestures would be visible from space.

Photo Credit: Daniel Boud

Time Warp’s chugging riffs arrive earlier in the show than we remember, and here Henry Rollo (Riff Raff) shines; the precision of his movements while executing this iconic choreography sets the bar super-high (he even stands out in the press shot of this number). And under the musical direction of Jack Earle, the brilliant band gets us jiving in our seats throughout – we totally wanna join in! 

As the naive, newly engaged couple Brad Majors and Janet Waze, Ethan Jones (fresh from playing Joe in 9 To 5 The Musical) and Deirdre Khoo deliver dazzling vocal performances. At the beginning of Act Two, they’re molested by Frank N Furter in a vertical bed – separately – and we almost have to watch through fingers thanks to Donovan’s lascivious performance.   

One of Myf Warhurst’s lines as The Narrator, “It was as if she was riding a giant…” is completed by a punter who hollers, “COCK!” on opening night. Warhurst completely loses it, doubled over in fits of laughter, before explaining, “I had ‘tidal wave’…” Callbacks – audience members shouting out responses, scripted or otherwise – have long been a feature of the Rocky Horror Show experience, but tonight some of these ‘heckles’ feel staged. You can see Warhurst’s brain ticking over as she executes her blocking throughout, and she never really appears to be in character, which is confusing.    

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Photo Credit: Daniel Boud

Frank N Furter’s famous quote, “Give yourselves over to absolute pleasure,” is exactly how audience members should approach Rocky Horror Show. A thoroughly enjoyable, engaging, lowbrow classic romp, the musical – thankfully less shocking by today’s standards – has always been about pure escapism. And if you took a swig every time you witnessed a pelvic thrust within Nathan M Wright’s choreography, you’d be para on the Yarra in no time!

Catch Rocky Horror Show at the Athenaeum Theatre until 23 July.