Rocky Horror Show Australia 2023

Rebecca Varidel
18th Feb 2023

The 50th Anniversary Rocky Horror Show opened tonight at the Theatre Royal Sydney.

Jason Donovan is astounding! As the "Sweet Transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania" Frank-n-Furter (affectionately referred to as Frank) in the 2023 Rocky Horror Show he presents the best version that we've seen. No offence meant to our fabulous Australian legend Reg Livermore who was brilliant, he was right for that more time, and in his reprise role Jason Donovan is perfect for now. We've all changed. We're now all more gender diversity and sexually aware.

Jason Donovan commanded this show, delivered an absolutely brilliant performance, edgy yet nuanced, without the overt extremes, quite an extraordinary line to walk dance sing and he succeeded superbly. Every step, every gesture, every glance, every flick of the hair, every note - spoke to us. Jason Donovan gives good Frank!

Our Theatre Royal Sydney program has an introduction by Richard O'Brien, who wrote the book, music and lyrics reminding us that this iconic show is celebrating its 50th Anniversary.

"In 1973, in a tiny room at the top of the Royal Court Theatre in London's Sloan Square, eight actors and four musicians set out to have three weeks of fun with a musical that featured a transvestic alien who had decided to build a beautiful creature for his own personal pleasure and the entire enterprise was constructed under the guidance and watchful eye of a maverick, Australian director, Jim Sharman."

2023, and it's Christopher Luscombe who is the director for this fabulous fresh take of the Rocky Horror Show which beautifully both acknowledges and retains the origin feel and concept of the cult show yet uplifts it to a new dimension relevant to audiences of the 21st century.

"I've always believed that Rocky is at its best when it feels newly minted and the actors can really own it. That goes for everyone who works on the show - on stage, backstage and in the production office. For us all, it's truly a favourite obsession."

Opening night, and Stellar Perry as the Usherette begins The Show singing Science Fiction Double Feature just like in the original 1973 stage production. A solo here is a difficult spot, and can make or break the mood of the audience from the outset. Stella Perry is superb. Okay. We're ready.

Michael Rennie was ill the day the earth stood still
But he told us where we stand
And Flash Gordon was there in silver underwear
Claude Raines was the invisible man

Then something went wrong for Fay Wray and King Kong
They got caught in a celluloid jam
Then at a deadly pace it came from outerspace
And this is how the message ran

Science Fiction double-feature 
Dr X will build a creature 
See Androids fighting, Brad and Janet 
Anne Francis stars in Forbidden Planet

Woh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh, at the late night
Double Feature, Picture Show

I would assume you would know the story, that opening song tells it (nearly) all. But I shouldn't assume because my 30 something opening night companion had never seen the stage show (or the movie). And yes, after the Science Fiction Double Feature opening, it is the naive Brad and innocent Janet we see next in their car after the wedding of a friend. 

Ethan Jones as Brad is exemplary in all his aspects. Deidre Khoo as Janet comes into her own when unleashed. Yet it is Henry Rollo as the quintessential Riff Raff that bursts forth with the new Rocky Horror wave. Screams from the audience herald his entrance. Throughout the show we keep our eyes glued to him. It's not just Frank that is astounding, and yes Time Warp is actually Riff Raff's song.

The live band on stage are punchy, powerful and tight, all but hidden on the curving film strip mezzanine, providing the foundations for the exceptional vocals and with musical arrangements by (co-composer of Time Warp) Richard Hartley, offering us instrumental entertainment in its own right.

Adding to the luminary performances of the cast, renowned Australian choreographer Nathan M. Wright adds vitality to the story with dance moves that are exciting and pertinent. Every step is in place, marvellously completing the performers' triple threats. Lighting design by Nick Richings just bumps the show up another level.

Stella Perry also shines in her primary place as Magenta. Ellis Dolan totally gets it - in both his diverse roles! rock 'n' roll Eddie to wheelchair bound Dr. Everett V. Scott. Darcey Eagle flits fabulously. Myf Warhurst struts her stuff as narrator. And Loredo Malcolm is just wonder-full as the slightly confused brawn Rocky Horror.

The 50th Anniversary Rocky Horror Show is top entertainment for all fans, recurrent addicts or the now fortunate newbies, at the Theatre Royal Sydney, until April 1, 2023

Photos by Daniel Boud