The Rocky Horror Show ****1/2

Calling The Rocky Horror Show the ‘Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Musical’ might be a bit self presumptuous, but it’s still easy to see why many would make such a case.  After all, few plays or films can claim to have created such a cultural landslide and have as many die-hard fans.

It’s also a piece that suffers a bit of an identity crisis.  What is it, really?  Is it an adult panto, a satire of science fiction films or a parable for sexual awakening?

In truth, it’s all of these.  Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show is a celebration of crassness, gaudiness and the ridiculous but also has a tremendous heart.  It’s outrageous and can shock the easily offended, but it can also move people, mostly to hysterics.

Any production is going to have the shadow of the film looming over it, and here is where the current tour is quite successful.  There are enough parallels to appease anyone hoping for the familiar.  Many of the costumes emulate, if not completely copy, the film and most of the cast bare a likeness.  However, the staging is vastly different, particularly in the way many of the musical numbers are handled. 

And the performances are uniformly brilliant.  David Bedella is a rather masculine Frank, but he still manages to move well in high heels and dresses.  Mark Evans and Haley Flaherty manage to make Brad and Janet both vulnerable and sympathetic without being pathetic, and Dominic Tribuzio makes Rocky, a character many productions sideline, into an interesting character.

However, one really has to pinpoint Christopher Biggins as the Narrator.  Biggins has to carry a lot more of the show than the script calls for; he has to speak with the audience and takes the majority of the abuse that gets shouted out.  He not only creates a fantastic rapport but is able to ad lib and counter many of the heckles, and he scored the majority of the big laughs, especially with his off-the-cuff comments and comebacks.  There’s also an extra joy in seeing Biggins onstage for Rocky as he was in the film (he’s the tall man in sunglasses who’s eating during much of ‘Time Warp’).

Most people going to Rocky Horror probably have an expectation of what they’re going to get, and with its excellent production values, spirited performances and brilliant renditions of O’Brien’s great songs, this production more than delivers.  Rocky virgins may feel a tad alienated at first, but fans should relish it.

Originally written for Onstage Scotland.

At the Kings in Glasgow until Saturday.  At the Edinburgh Playhouse from June 21-26, 2010.

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