“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” has been a long-standing cult classic since the original stage production and its 1975 film adaptation, and the 2016 TV special of the same name continues that tradition. While this new take from director Kenny Ortega may not be on the same pedestal as its namesake; it still provides a fun take on the material that inspired it while also introducing the story to a new generation.
The story is familiar to folks who know the original production. Newly-engaged young couple Brad Majors (McCartan) and Janet Weiss (Justice) decide to celebrate their relationship by going to see their science professor Dr. Everett Scott (Ben Vereen). However, on the way there; their tire blows out in a remote area near a spooky castle. What follows is a musical adventure amid a strange group of individuals from the planet of Transylvania, headlined by the maniacal Dr. Frank N. Furter (Cox). Other characters from prior versions consist of siblings Riff-Raff (Reeve Carney) and Magenta (Christina Milian), as well as excitable groupie Columbia (Annaleigh Ashford).
While the production may tread familiar waters, Ortega’s direction pays a tongue-in-cheek homage to the original versions of the stories while also adding a few touches that stand out even to fans who have made a tradition of going to midnight showings of the original film. Many of the sets and costume designs recall the campy cheesiness of the old horror and science fiction films that “Rocky Horror” parodied, and the younger cast bathes in the innuendo and overtones that the massive cult following helped popularize. It fully embraces the style of 1970s media and flashy aesthetics. Riff-Raff’s antimatter weapon now doubles as an electric guitar that appears to be an attempt to outdo the flamethrowing guitar from “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Tim Curry, who played Dr. Frank N. Furter in the original film, is a standout as the criminologist who narrates the misadventures of Brad and Janet. Even at a benign age, Curry retains a voice and performance that remains the envy of a cast far younger than him.
Regardless, the biggest appeal about the special is also arguably a deterrent to many people. The weight of its lineage means it not only has to introduce a familiar story to a new audience, but also respect what came before it. Still, as a $20 million live show; it manages to be a worthy addition to the many versions of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” that have been produced since the 1970s.
While not in the same league as the original film or stage productions, the 2016 version of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is still a fun way to spend a rainy Halloween night, and the special’s audience chimes in with flying toilet paper and “Mystery Science Theater 3000”-like quips so you don’t have to. Let’s do the timewarp again!
Starring: Laverne Cox, Victoria Justice, Ryan McCartan, Adam Lambert and Tim Curry
Directed by: Kenny Ortega (based on characters created by Richard O’Brien and Jim Sharman)
My Rating: ****/5