Good news, everyone! The Rocky Horror Picture Show wasn’t all bad, was it? In fact, I found it quite pleasurable.
This wasn’t the worst remake or reimagining of 2016 by no stretch. While there were a few questionable decisions made here and there, I didn’t leave the show thinking that the Rocky Horror brand was weaker for it existing. There’s not many missteps — surely not enough to warrant a full on boycott. I’m traditionally a purist, signing off on many remakes (after torturing myself with a viewing first). Even through an auto-tuned soundtrack, the fun the cast is having translates beautifully.
The show sadly opens with a terrible looking “Science Fiction, Double Feature” — deleting the lips fans have grown to love and adding a full number. There are excellent visual references that made me happy, but this was by far the weakest part of the production.
Victoria Justice’s Janet is a clear standout throughout; she honors the performance of Susan Sarandon while bringing her own naivety. Her and Ryan McCartan (Brad Majors) have an excellent on-screen chemistry (in the sense that you feel like they’re wrong for each other). Reeve Carney’s Riff Raff is positively electric, stealing every scene he’s in vocally. I was pleasantly surprised by Laverne Cox. She has the Tim Curry swagger while imbuing the role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter with her own stamp of sensuality. I couldn’t help but feel that Adam Lambert was grossly misused as Eddie. Lambert would’ve been better suited as Dr. Frank or Rocky himself. However, he truly shines even though Eddie’s fate and aftermath was incredibly sanitized..
It’s sad to see a mostly competent voice and acting cast compromised by poor staging, set and costume design, and musical arrangements. It often tries to imitate while updating the numbers to near bubblegum status. Rocky looks fresh out of the gym instead of fresh out of incubation. The show might have a bigger budget than the 1975 original, but it certainly doesn’t show it. Everything looks cheap by today’s standards (and not in the cute, kitschy way the original film holds up). The censored lyrics may also bother some, but it wasn’t enough to detract from the strength of the performances. (Is it possible an unrated version will hit digital and Blu-ray?)
My heart sank every time Tim Curry was on-screen. I’m not sure if the casting was exploitative or purely to pay tribute to his Rocky Horror legacy, but it nearly brought tears to my eyes. His delivery of “don’t dream it, be it” is chilling and heart-wrenching. It’s nice to see him, but saddening all the same.
The things I didn’t care for are minimal, but the show’s major flaw was the constant reminder that the picture show was being watched by a staged audience, a la the midnight showings of the original film. The momentum of the musical is consistently ruined by cutting to “fans” reciting Rocky callbacks. I understand its purpose, but it felt too gimmicky and the production suffered for it.
Don’t let haters deter you here. The show is much better than Glee’s 2010 attempt to honor Rocky Horror. It was far more sanitized back then, but Kenny Ortega’s Rocky Horror still feels oddly clean… never diving into the primal sexuality that made the original such a tantalizing experience.
The biggest tragedy isn’t the fact that this remake was done… it’s the fact that we had an amazing cast muddled by poor execution. It’s impossible to hate this show if you’re a fan of the songs. (What a great decision to include the “cut for US release” “Superheroes” at the end!) Rocky Horror falls just short of being the perfect specimen it could’ve been.