Rocky Horror Show / Directed by Christopher Luscombe / Teatro, Montecasino, Fourways, Johannesburg
Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show remains a profoundly odd piece of work, a science fiction fairytale that did something illegal in a laboratory with a gothic horror novel and spawned something that earned a sponsorship from Victoria’s Secret.
And for all the gore (folks get cut up with chainsaws) and illicit sex – Frank N Furter is an, um, versatile lover – it’s all still a hoot; a crazy, dynamic, sardonic romp that rides, stiletto-shod, over political correctness.
This Pieter Toerien and Howard Panter production features a new (for South African audiences) set and a cast largely comprising experienced musical leads, plus some breakthrough roles for a couple of already familiar names.
Hugh Durrant’s set is outlined by an arch of celluloid, presumably a nod to the iconic 1975 film that was based on the original stage show, but also a neat way of creating the shape of the landscapes and interiors in which the cast operate. The backdrop in Frank N Furter’s lab looks relatively sedate, as you’d expect where tiles and piping are the main components, but everything else is gaudy, bright and glittering – in line with the general excesses endorsed by the protagonists.
The first act races by, its bits and pieces linked together by Kate Normington’s delightfully acid-tongued Narrator. Brad (Anthony Downing) and Janet (Didintle Khunou) get engaged; have their car break down and seek help in a dark castle, where Frank N Furter (Craig Urbani) carries out scientific experiments to create sexual partners/slaves including Rocky (Jarryd Nurden – a sculpted physique and an increasingly impressive voice, enjoying the opportunity to work alongside his equally talented sister Tyla Dee Nurden as swing and first cover for Magenta/Usherette and Columbia) and Eddie (Zak Hendrikz). Furter is aided by his servants Riff Raff (Kristian Lavercombe) and Magenta (Marlee van der Merwe) and a groupie named Columbia (Stephania Du Toit). It’s a lot to fit in, and it’s done at a pace that must test the cast’s stamina significantly. It also – and very effectively – sets up the audience in terms of expectations for the longer second act, in which relationships are developed and the various plot threads are explored.
The show is a superb ensemble effort, but there are some eye-openingly stand-out performances. Lavercombe’s experience in the role – he has played Riff Raff more often than anyone else in history, with over 1 700 performances, including in West End stagings – is evident in his second-skin comfort with the character, and his huge rock voice makes his parts in the already show-stopping The Time Warp the vocal highlight of the piece. Van der Merwe keeps pace brilliantly, opening the show with a rendition of Science Fiction/Double Feature (as the Usherette) that sets the bar for everything to come, and being strong, fiery and a phenomenal singer throughout.
Urbani – in high heels, a corset and satin undies – maintains a hot streak that continues to see him occupy a niche as probably the most talented, flexible and resourceful leading man in South African musical theatre at the moment. Significantly, he manages to give a violent, psychopathic, transsexual weirdo something beyond the character’s blazing charisma: if not a heart, then a quality the audience can connect to emotionally. And Normington, sleek and razor-sharp, takes a role designed to essentially keep the others properly lined up and makes it an audience favourite, raising shrieks of laughter with her brutal put-downs of the traditional audience heckling. That, and then a perfect, brief solo towards the end of the show…
The top-notch live band, under the leadership of Bryan Schimmel, easily equals the vigour of all that is happening below them on stage. Don’t rush out after the curtain call and encores – if you’re lucky, Schimmel will play the same genius piano solo after the musical ends that he did on the show’s opening night.