Let me begin by saying what I said in my review of FOX’s Grease Live!: I will always support televised theatre. This version of Rocky Horror may have been some kid’s introduction to musicals and maybe they’ll go on to be the next Sondheim. Now let’s get into it.
The first time I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I was seventeen. I had a friend who was obsessed with Tim Curry and recommended it to me. I knew nothing about it. I honestly thought it was a horror film and I was scared starting to watch it. After it was over, I thought: What the hell did I just see? Then the songs stayed in my head. Then I dressed up as Magenta and went to a live screening.
That’s the success of Rocky Horror in a nutshell. It likely didn’t go well in its initial run because people left the theatre with that “what the hell” feeling, but it became a cult classic because it stuck around in your head. The message of the movie – don’t dream it, be it, and be it as wildly as you can be – is timeless and is still inspiring today.
When FOX announced that they would be reviving Rocky Horror starring Laverne Cox as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, I was thrilled. Having a transgender woman play a character that describes themselves as a “sweet transvestite” is honestly genius, and Cox said that the movie inspired her when she was in college and figuring out who she was. But then I realized that Rocky Horror is also about sexual awakening and this was going to be aired during primetime. I had no idea what was going to happen.
I settled in last night to watch the pre-filmed production (why wasn’t it live? I can’t tell you. Rocky Horror has been performed onstage for years) wondering how it was going to play out. I didn’t mind exchanging the iconic red lips for the usherette singing “Science Fiction Double Feature,” as last year the Wasteland Productions’ version of Rocky Horror I saw had a similar introduction. It set the scene for a grand movie theatre, where the audience is watching Rocky Horror and occasionally the camera pops back in to show audience participation.
But when Brad (Ryan McCartan) and Janet (Victoria Justice) arrive at Frank’s castle, it’s the crumbling old movie theatre, which confused me immensely. The people watching Rocky Horror are in the movie theatre, but the movie they’re watching takes place at that movie theatre that is now ruins? It took me out of the experience.
I live for the “Time Warp”/”Sweet Transvestite” suite, and I was a little disappointed with the former. The choreography was changed, which it shouldn’t have, because it’s literally a song instructing you how to do the Time Warp. Christina Milan was an over-the-top, over-acted Magenta. Former Spider-man Reeve Carney probably would’ve played Riff Raff better if he hadn’t pretended that Richard O’Brien’s hand was in his mouth, performing an exact imitation of the original. McCartan’s Brad was too deliberately cheesy, which is the great thing about that character – he’s inherently cheesy, even when you don’t try to make him that way.
Cox is the one that saved this show for me. Her deep voice, passion for the role, and the way her body looked in those William Ivey Long-designed sequined outfits hypnotized me into watching the whole thing. Some on Twitter mocked her for the transatlantic accent she performed, but I honestly believe that accent comes with the role. Tim Curry’s iconic, generation-spanning performance will never be forgotten, so we may as well give him an homage.
Curry, still recovering from a stroke, played a seated Narrator/Criminologist, giving his assistant instructions on how to Time Warp. His presence was almost permission to like this version. Adam Lambert’s Eddie was a highlight, simply because all Eddie does is ride in on his motorcycle and sing a song. Lambert is a rock star and he delivered. Annaleigh Ashford’s Columbia, who I had high hopes for, was forgettable. I literally forgot about it until I almost published this.
Ultimately, after I finished watching this version, I immediately popped in my Rocky Horror movie DVD and watched the original. Without the camp, blood, and sex, Rocky Horror doesn’t have its personality.
2.5/5, watch it for “Sweet Transvestite,” “I’m Going Home,” and William Ivey Long’s brilliant costumes.