Review: Fox’s “Rocky Horror Picture Show”

The title logo for Fox TV’s reboot of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” ended with the tag line “Let’s do the time warp again!”

Let’s not.

Despite assembling a talented, diverse cast and evening managing to get original “Rocky” star Tim Curry to appear, this production somehow manages to be both fun and terrible at the same time. The original, of course, was both of these things as well but they somehow magically transformed an otherwise strange, low-budget film into a cult classic. Fox’s version lost of all that unintentional charm and fun and instead looked like a Disney parade version of the material.

Based on the sets and costumes, this clearly wasn’t a cheap remount. For the most part, the visual elements work well. The movie dolly on which Dr. Frank-N-furter (Laverne Cox) makes his/her appearance was an odd choice (why not use the elevator like in the original?) I get that the film is a nod to the old science fiction films of the past but this still felt forced and out of place. Does Frank just sit at the top of that thing waiting to swoop down? In a story filled with odd, that’s just a bit too far over the line logic-wise.

It was an interesting choice to open the film in a real movie theater and have that audience watching this version. Their interactions were a fun addition but some seemed to be missing or toned down. I realize that this is TV and some of the more graphic suggestive images of the original would have to be truncated, but honestly, they are a major plot point and to remove the sexuality of the piece is akin to making “Jaws” without a shark.

The cast is very good and their singing voices are mostly excellent. Ryan McCartan (Brad Majors) and Victoria Justice (Janet Weiss) are both fine, with McCartan a stand-out for his fantastic solos. Broadway vets Reeve Carney (Riff Raff) and Annaleigh Ashford (Columbia) are a mixed bag. Carney (Broadway’s “Spider-Man”) is serviceable as the handy-man who enjoys “The Time Warp” but something was missing and his accent seemed to float in and out. Ashford (“Wicked” and “Kinky Boots”) fares much better, commanding her scenes and showing TV audiences why she is so sought-after on the Great White Way.

Laverne Cox is also uneven as Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Having a real-life transgendered actress playing this iconic transvestite role should have been a revelation but instead it fell flat. Her singing was good, especially in her lower register, and she did show sparks of originality at times, but for the most part I felt as if I was watching someone who wasn’t sure if they wanted to emulate Tim Curry or find their own path. Speaking of Curry, he made a fun, if a bit grounded, Narrator/Criminologist. Having suffered a debilitating stroke in 2012, it was a miracle at all that he was able to perform in this production. Watching him do “The Time Warp” would have been a treat.

Any musical needs a good orchestra and this production had excellent musicians. It was perfect — and that is the problem. The music never had an edge, even during Adam Lambert’s rocking turn as “Eddie.” Sounding more like a very polished karaoke track, the songs were almost overproduced and too clean.

Being a casual fan of the original 70s film, I really wanted to like this version. But as the bland opening number “Science Fiction Double Feature” played out with Ivy Levan as an Usherette, it was clear that this production would have little of what made the original so good (and bad in a good way). The first lyric of the song is, “Michael Rennie was ill the day the earth stood still.” This film won’t make him feel any better.

** out of *****
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show”
by Richard O’Brien and Jim SharmanDirected by Kenny Ortega
Fox Television
Photo: Christina Milian as Magenta, Ryan McCartan as Brad Majors, Victoria Justice as Janet Weiss and Reeve Carney as Riff Raff in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show – Let’s Do The Time Warp Again” on Fox Television

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