Reviewed by Ellen Becker
Directed by Aussie Jim Sharman and written by out-of-work New Zealand actor Richard O'Brien as a musical tribute to schlock horror and B films of the '50's, The Rocky Horror Show and subsequent Picture Show became an unexpected cultural institution, spawning a church of ardent fans that continues to grow forty years on. To celebrate the cult musical's 40th anniversary, a new production of The Rocky Horror Show will open for a limited season at the Lyric Theatre from the 11th April.
Fresh to a cast brimming with Rocky alum are charming up and comers Stephen Mahy (Grease, Jersey Boys) and Amy Lehpamer (Once, Shane Warne: The Musical) as Brad and Janet, the chaste small town naïfs who stumble into a deliriously sordid evening at mad scientist Frank N Furter's castle. "It's helpful for Brad and Janet to be a bit naïve because that's the essence of their characters," said Lephamer, "we really hear every lyric from Frank with a bite. The faces I'm making are very real!" Mahy also sees the advantages of coming to the text with fresh eyes, "I think you can fall in to the trap of being the same person or doing the same thing so I think what we are going to love to do is bring our own flavour to the show."
The young actors are in good company, led at the helm by three-time Frank N. Furter Craig McLachlan, who nabbed a Helpmann Award for his role in last year's Melbourne production. Fresh from filming his starring role in the hit ABC series The Doctor Blake Mysteries, McLachlan proved he is in fine form cutting a sexy, svelte figure as we watched him masterfully strut his way through a rendition of Sweet Transvestite in stilettos during rehearsals. Joining McLachlan is Jayde Westaby, resuming her role as Magenta from the recent UK production, and Kristian Lavercombe as Frank's "loyal handyman" Riff Raff, who has just notched up an incredible 800 performances in the role, including one production alongside Rocky writer/creator and original stage and screen Riff Raff, Richard O'Brien.
To guide us through the mad-cap wonderment and instruct us in the time warp is silver screen legend and beloved compere Bert Newton as the Narrator, following on from his role as Vince Fontaine in last year's Grease, alongside Mahy as Kenickie. Newton was on hand during rehearsals this week, sharing an affectionate hug and a chummy chat with McLachlan between numbers. It was clear in rehearsals that the talented cast have forged a quick rapport. "They've definitely set the benchmark," Lehpamer says of the cast. "They're all wonderful. Everybody is giving it their full show energy, so it's great for us to see where the show sits, and lift it to that level. Between Bert and Craig we're in really wonderful hands!" said Lehpamer.
The Rocky regulars can also serve as a guide to their uninitiated co-stars, when they meet with the cult of audience callbacks and one-liners that have evolved through years of midnight screenings (the Picture Show still holds the record for the longest ever theatrical release). "I think we're really lucky to have Bert on board, because he's wonderfully good at responding to things quickly!" said Lehpamer. "People have warned me that they call Brad an asshole, and they call Janet a slut," Mahy laughs, very gentlemanly apologising for his language. "People are saying don't get offended, just be aware of it! There must be something that we don't know yet."
It's all part of the fun. "Stephen and I are quite lucky with Brad and Janet because of that innocence," said Lehpamer. "Things are kind of shouted at us but we're in our own bubble. We don't kind of have that right to go beyond into that knowing world, but the other characters do! We're really trying to create that real essence of what the show was when Richard O'Brien created it, for the fans that's what they want and for new people they're experiencing the show in an intended format, at it's purest idea. And pure I say lightly - we all know what happens!"
The Rocky Horror Show will be showing at the Sydney Lyric Theatre at The Star from the 11th April. For more information head to their website, rockyhorrormusical.com.au