Stage: The Rocky Horror Show – Teatro, Montecasino, Johannesburg
(until March 1)
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
IT’S astounding! Time continues to have no effect on the wide appeal of the saucy, sci-fi send-up that is that cult of all cult shows, Richard O’Brien’s giddy and glittery 1970s nod to aliens, cross-dressers, nerds, sexual shenanigans and rock ’n’ roll B-movies.
First staged in a 63-seater London theatre in 1973, O’Brien’s screwball scramble of ham and high-camp – “an alternative pantomime,” as he has called it – has gone from being a minor fringe event to one of the most popular stage musicals in the world, while the 1975 film version of the musical comedy continually rakes in fans.
For its current South African tour, presented by Pieter Toerien and Howard Panter, the production has a crisp new vibe and a fun new set which sees the stage dominated by an unspooling reel of film, above which perches the five-member band led by music director and keyboardist Bryan Schimmel.
A replica of the recent London revival and globally touring version of the show, the production boasts a truly stellar cast with the bonus of Welsh-born performer Kristian Lavercombe in the role of Riff Riff. He has played that character, originated by O’Brien himself, in a record 1700-plus performances globally, including on London’s West End.
Small in stature but big in vocal power, Lavercombe is perfect as the enigmatic, bedraggled butler at “The Frankenstein Place”, the spooky home of mad scientist Frank N Furter.
He is played superbly by a towering, muscled Craig Urbani, offering the prequisite femininity of a sweet transvestite but also a refreshing, manly swagger as he sings some of the show’s best numbers, including Sweet Transvestite and the poignant Don’t Dream It and I’m Going Home.
Frank and his kinky, kooky entourage from a distant planet provide enormous fun. And, of course, it all starts one rainy night when two strangers, the nerdy and newly engaged Brad and Janet, knock on Frank’s door.
Assorted sins of the flesh, a floorshow of note, the birth of Frank’s perfect muscle-man creation (newly blond Jarryd Nurden) and a tap-dancing frenzy (an amusing, loopy, prolonged highlight of the show, performed by Stefania du Toit as the shrill-voiced Columbia) are among thrills that await Brad, Janet and the audience in a production that moves at a blistering pace and keeps a smile on the face throughout its two hours (including a 20-minute interval).
The show is packed with wonderful moments and fine performances, and I particularly loved Kate Normington, with grey hair and a plummy accent, as The Narrator, a role hitherto played by a male. She pops up often, spectacles in hand or dangling from her mouth, to comment and handle random shout-outs from the audience with some razor-sharp retorts. She also gets to present her fine singing voice and get in on some of the action in the show’s final moments.
Didintle Khunou is a charming and sweet Janet, blessed with the wonderful voice that saw her scoop last year’s Naledi Award for her moving Celie in The Color Purple; while Anthony Downing, who played Raoul in the Phantom of the Opera production that ran locally and in several other countries from 2011 to 2016, is also in great voice as a Ken Doll-like Brad.
Marlee van der Merwe oozes sex and sass as both Magenta and Usherette, and if Zak Hendrikz is perhaps not as robust as might have been expected of his rocker Eddie – Frank’s failed experiment stored in a freezer – he is a constant delight as wheelchair-bound Dr Scott.
Completing the cast are four hard-working Phantoms, including Jessica Sole, who recently starred in Private Lives and Camelot in Durban. Her ghoulish and energetic, Time Warp-dancing sidekicks are Sean John Louw (who did a fine job as the Rocky understudy the night I was in), Usisipho Nteyi and Robin Timm.
This Rocky Horror Show is one of the best staged to date in this country, and is certainly my favourite, alongside Matthew Wild’s Fugard Theatre production which starred Brendan van Rhyn and had an unbroken run of 444 performances in Cape Town and Johannesburg from 2013 to 2015.
The new production is at the large Teatro theatre at Johannesburg’s Montecasino until March 1, following a successful season in Cape Town. Sadly, a Durban season is not on the cards, but it is certainly worth a drive-up and stay-over in Gauteng.
Performances are Tuesday to Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm and 6pm. Tickets range in price from R150 to R500 and booking is at Computicket.
Grab a boa, heels and some friends, and let madness take its toll!
FOR MY INTERVIEW WITH ROCKY CLICK HERE:
FOR MY INTERVIEW WITH RIFF RAFF CLICK HERE: