Stepping it up at the Rocky Horror Show

Rocky Horror Show 2018 - photo by Jeff BusbyThe announcement that Adam Rennie was to take over the role of Frank N. Furter in the Australian production of the Rocky Horror Show was received with mixed reactions. Could this move pave the way for producers to cast up-and-coming performers in major roles, rather than focus on the pulling power of a star?

Having seen the production four times – twice in Adelaide during the 2014 season, once in Melbourne, and recently at Adelaide Festival Centre’s New Year’s Eve performance – I can honestly say that I’ve loved it every time. No, I’m not a diehard fan. In fact, I’ve never even seen the movie. I just love musical theatre.

I had a friend in the previous production a few years ago who was cast in the role of Eddie, Dr Scott and understudied Frank N. Furter. Had he been asked to step in to play the lead role, I would have dropped everything to be there to see him. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t.

When Adam Rennie recently donned the corset and suspenders to play Frank N. Furter in the recent Adelaide production I wanted to see the show again – to see what he would make of the role. Even though it was my fifth time, I was ready to see somebody new as Frank. Which raises the question, is it the role that is popular or the person playing it?

The one thing that makes Rocky Horror Show different from other musicals is the audience interaction. No audience is ever the same; no two nights are like any other. The Narrator and Frank N. Furter must be experienced enough to be able to adapt and interact with the audience at every show. This is a skill; it’s not something you can be taught, it takes years of experience.

I was compelled to write this piece because I know a few musical theatre performers who have trained, and trained hard to get cast into a production let alone be given a lucky break. Opportunity knocked for Rennie and he had some pretty big shoes to fill – or should I say platforms. It was his time to take centre stage, and what a role to land. In fact, for many this is a dream role.

Adam Rennie strutted onto the stage to whistles and thunderous applause. He may have dreamed of performing the part here and there, as many understudies are trained and ready to do so, but given the chance to perform it permanently may never have entered his mind.

He, like many others, often strives for the chance to get some recognition, but get overlooked in preference over a ‘big name star’. Rennie is proof you don’t need a star, because he did it, and he did it well, with intensity, softness, humour and freshness to the character. Rennie gave his own take, his own spark, to the notable bed scene that I’d seen many times before.

With his own subtle – and not so subtle changes – my admiration for him grew stronger and stronger as the show progressed. His singing and dancing skills are flawless, so much so that his solos I’m Going Home and Don’t Dream It, Be It showcased Rennie for the exceptional talented performer he is. His numbers were showstoppers; so moving and heartfelt, it was the same feeling I had watching Lola in Kinky Boots.

In my opinion, the popular musical theatre roles can be cast with superb up-and-coming trained performers if given the chance. It’s the songs and the production that pull the audiences in, and cult musicals such as Rocky Horror Show have a dynamic and following of its own – no matter the names or the production values.

Adam Rennie will ease into the role over time; given time he will find his own nuances and play them with charismatic flair and absolute spark. It’s just what happens. As soon as he’s more at ease with it, he’ll find that ‘elusive spark’ and make Frank N. Furter something all of his own.

If you’ve already bought a ticket, or are thinking of buying a ticket to Rocky Horror Show, but you’re feeling a little unsure because of the cast change, let me reassure you that you have nothing to worry about it. The show is just as strong as ever, and the supporting cast are enjoying every minute of the ride.

It almost seems that this current production has evolved into a ‘entire ensemble’ piece as opposed to it being just about one star cast member, which is not only a rarity in musical theatre, but also a fantastic thing for audience members to witness and be a part of. This is evident by the standing ovation that the entire cast received. Don’t Dream It, Be It. Adam Rennie has stopped dreaming, because he now is it.

Following its recent Adelaide season, the Rocky Horror Show has opened at QPAC, Brisbane, before playing Crown Theatre Perth from 17 February, and Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne from 13 July 2018. For more information, visit: www.rockyhorror.com.au for details.

Image: The 2018 Australian Cast of the Rocky Horror Show – photo by Jeff Busby

Words: Betty Samis  – All About Entertainment

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