Home Australian News Jason Donovan as Frank-N-Furter in Rocky Horror Picture Show; Grease

Jason Donovan as Frank-N-Furter in Rocky Horror Picture Show; Grease

Jason Donovan as Frank-N-Furter in Rocky Horror Picture Show; Grease

Seeing it the night after its almost direct contemporary, Grease, makes comparison inevitable. Grease asks us to believe it, even if director Luke Joslin’s production tries to dilute that extravagant demand by emphasising the characters’ cartoonishness. Anyone who takes Rocky Horror seriously needs a brain transplant.

The cast of <i>The Rocky Horror Picture Show</i>.

The cast of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.Credit: James Brickwood

But both shows have built-in flat spots. Rocky Horror runs out of comedic puff in act two, when the goofy humour that lit up the first half turns to terminal and interminable inanity. It’s a shame, because – jokes aside – there’s a slab of act one, when The Time Warp is followed by Sweet Transvestite, that constitutes as strong a pair of songs as in any rock musical ever written.


Dylan Alcott plays the narrator (splitting the role with Peter Helliar), and, while the stage might not be the ex-Paralympian’s natural habitat, he plainly enjoys himself and gives as good as he gets from the sharp tongues in the crowd. Blake Bowden (Brad), Henry Rollo (Riff Raff), Stellar Perry (Magenta) and Darcey Eagle (Columbia) are all entertaining, and Daniel Erbacher is a suitably buff Rocky.

Originating in the West End, director David Luscombe’s production has been running somewhere in the world for 18 years. That’s because Rocky Horror claims a unique place in popular culture: part B-grade movie parody, part glam-rock concert and part camp comedy, it’s become a ritual as much as a musical.

Capitol Theatre, April 2
Until June 1

Given that it’s hard to take any of the characters in Grease too seriously, director Luke Joslin has a new solution: don’t try to disguise their cartoonishness; play it up! Make the whole show like a Roy Lichtenstein painting that’s sprung to life, and, as well as sprouting cliches and crying, it sings and dances for good measure.

The cast of Grease, including Patti Newton (centre), at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney.

The cast of Grease, including Patti Newton (centre), at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney.Credit: Louise Kennerley

Let’s face it: the show needed something to justify another revival because, between you and me, it’s actually not that good. A bunch of cartoon characters carry on about that famously tautological malaise, confused teenaged love, then pester us with some ordinary songs and reward us with a few that are crackers.

The film became such a phenomenon due to the singular chemistry between Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta. Have you ever seen that chemistry replicated in a stage production? No.

Annelise Hall and Joseph Spanti as Sandy and Danny in Grease.

Annelise Hall and Joseph Spanti as Sandy and Danny in Grease.Credit: Jeff Busby

In casting the show, Joslin wisely chose youth over stardom, and while he hasn’t been repaid as handsomely as director Francesca Zambello was in pursuing the same policy in the current West Side Story, his production certainly has fizz.

The odd thing is that it doesn’t really emanate from Joseph Spanti as Danny Zuko or Annelise Hall as Sandy. It comes from the comedy, designer James Brown’s eye-candy costumes, the sharp-edged realisations of Eric Giancola’s choreography and the top-shelf band directed by Dave Skelton.

Let’s pause to observe that this show is now a rarity in local commercial musical theatre, being an all-Australian production, rather than one of those cookie-cutter franchises now dominating the world’s theatres. So hats off to producers John Frost and Crossroads Live for having the faith and courage to do this.

They believed in the show, and we have to believe in the characters. I don’t mean that we must believe these two-dimensional creatures are real, but they must entice us into their cartoon fantasy land, and when they do actually dare to mean something, they must make us feel it. Right in the sternum.

Passing the sternum test with flying colours is Mackenzie Dunn as Rizzo. Dunn grabs There Are Worse Things I Could Do and turns the show on its head. Rather than watching caricatures singing of their half-baked love, she suddenly pulls the whole room around her and makes us care. The applause at the end of the song kept on going until it had punched a big pause in the show, as the entire audience expressed its wonder, admiration and sheer relief that we’d been made to feel.

Marcia Hines in commanding form as Teen Angel.

Marcia Hines in commanding form as Teen Angel.Credit: Jeff Busby

Other reasons for going are to hear Marcia Hines in commanding voice as Teen Angel, leading a brilliantly staged scene in which the members of her retinue look like a mirror ball has collided with an overflowing pyramid of champagne flutes.

Among the rest, Brianna Bishop’s Marty, Patti Newton’s Miss Lynch, Catty Hamilton’s Frenchy, Cristina D’Agostino’s Cha Cha and Keanu Gonzalez’s Kenickie all shine to varying degrees, but, Spanti’s Zuko and Hall’s Sandy are just a little flat.


With Hall, it feels like she’s purposely rendered Sandy too much of a non-entity to maximise the contrast with her second act makeover, which beckons the show’s best song: You’re the One that I Want.

What we actually want is more tension in the conflict between Zuko and Sandy from the start, so you don’t just sit there admiring the costumes and the dancing, giggling at the Pink Ladies and waiting for the stronger songs.

The Booklist is a weekly newsletter for book lovers from books editor Jason Steger. Get it every Friday.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here