Australian theatre household names Todd McKenney and Shane Jacobson have leapt into the cast of The Rocky Horror Show which is coming home to Melbourne this month. A truly classic, outrageously fun show, it returns to Her Majesty’s Theatre from July 12.
We snuck into rehearsals to bring audiences a sneak peak of ‘The Time Warp’ and ‘Sweet Transvestite’ and to talk to the two new leads about how they are settling into their roles, and how the cast are going in rehearsals.
For Todd McKenney, playing Frank N Furter has been a dream role for his entire career.
“It’s everything I dreamt of and more. From seeing the movie way back in the day in Perth to 35, 40 years later trying to put on the heels and play that iconic role is a dream come true. I couldn’t be happier,” he reflected.
He’s taken to the heels and the nails surprisingly well, testing out his first round of stick on nails for the role. He’s thinking of swapping the black sparkly nails for red next week… or do one of each!
“I just want to make sure they don’t ping off and take out the third row!” he laughed.
McKenney has just returned from London where he was working with director Christopher Luscombe and choreographer Nathan Wright, recorded a song from the show at Abbey Road Studios and did his first live cross from London to Melbourne on Channel 9 to promote the show.
“It’s been a unique rehearsal process because I worked without the cast in London, so I learned the bones of the show. But by the time I’d finished in London I really wanted Brad and Janet and Riff Raff and Magenta and the cast around me. I felt like the new kid at school when I first arrived here, and I got to play with the whole cast, but now we’re running the show and they’ve welcomed me with open arms, it’s one of the most beautiful companies I’ve worked with. And it’s fast! We’ve had this whole thing down in about three weeks, but I’ve done a lot of prep. I’m ready!” he beamed.
He thinks the role is one of those rare, beautiful opportunities for an actor put their personal stamp on one of the most fun characters in musical theatre, and he’s ready to don his pearls, fishnets, corset and heels to give Melbourne the night of their lives.
“I think it’s in the wisdom of the director that he lets the Franks find their own characters, so we’re not all coming out doing a Tim Curry impersonation, which I think is a bit of a trap for young performers. I’ve been given a bit of licence to find him; to find the new quirks about him. I haven’t studied anyone else’s portrayal of the role, and because of that, and feeding off the people around me, there’ll be a unique quality to it,” he said on his interpretation of the iconic role.
“I’m thinking of him as kind of faded Hollywood glamour, kind of Joan Crawford towards the end of her life, and that suits my age, at 53, strutting around in high heels and suspenders is not something I ever planned to do, but I’m sitting him a little older, but it works just as well!”.
Shane Jacobson will be performing as the Narrator, and he’ll be doing so in all of the glory of a Moon Boot. He blames Daniel Ricardo’s win in Monaco for it, from jumping up and down in celebration.
“The boot is absolutely not coming off before the production, I’ve snapped my Achilles tendon and I have deep vein thrombosis and blood clots as well … so the doctor has said the moon boot is not to come off at all, so I’ll be on stage in the moon boot,” he said.
“I’ve never really done theatre in a moon boot, so this is something a little different, I’m tempted to bedazzle the boot, with the fishnets, maybe it’s a moon walk boot? But we’re getting away with it! The show must go on!” Jacobson laughed.
For both performers, the audience interaction and often moments of improvisation that come from a show like Rocky Horror are an exciting factor.
“When I do my one man show, and I have a great night, it’s never about hitting the notes, hitting the dance steps, it’s always about ‘how did the audience react?’ and how did they react with me? How did I react back to them? I have a good show when the audience and I play. We’ll probably have to tear the microphone out of Shane’s hands at some stage to get on with the show, he loves that! It’s that interaction with the audience that makes the show so special,” explained McKenney.
“Yeah, I have a bit of fun playing with an audience, I tend to find this okay,” Jacobson chuckled.
They both love the music of The Rocky Horror Show and the big, brilliant numbers the musical contains.
“It’s hard not to (have a favourite number from the show), there’s songs, ‘Going Home’, that people who know the show well would love, but the ‘Time Warp’ is pretty hard to go past”, said Jacobson.
“The thing I love about this show is that it’s been around for a long time, and it will be around for another 100 years. This show is going to outlive all of us. There are people coming to the show who know every word of it, there are people who are coming who’ve not seen it before but know the music, and there are a younger audience who are going to experience it for the first time. That collective experience of being jammed in a theatre, the crowd go nuts, it is a well organised riot,” Jacobson said about the impact and legacy of the show.
“The opening is one of the best opening numbers a leading man could ever have, with that rock, with that sound, it’s big and the doors open and there he is, flamboyant and courageous, but as the rehearsals are going through, I really like the last songs, the gentle songs, where Frank is just pared back and raw, and real, without any of the tricks and the snide comments; he’s stripped raw. I think as the show goes on that will be my favourite,” said McKenney.
“The great thing about Rocky too, the audience know they are coming to a party, and it’s the best party in town, so half of our work is done in the antici…pation of the crowd, as they’re bubbling in the crowd waiting to see what will happen. I think that’s a unique thing for musical theatre, to have the audience know what they’re coming to see and they dress up and join in the fun,” McKenney added about the energy of the show.
Jacobson did 13 years of amateur theatre and still sings in venues with his 30 piece band, but he always does get back to the stage, calling it his first love.
“The last few years has been chockas with film and TV shows, it is great to get back into the theatre – live performance is about as much fun as you can have in entertainment, there’s no doubt about it.”
“The difference with theatre is the response is immediate, it’s instant gratification, you finish a song and the audience let you know immediately whether they’re happy with it or not. And for the most part, they’re pretty happy with it. When you finish a number and there’s applause, it is fantastic, it’s like getting paid after every 20 minutes of work.”
Talking to the rest cast on their rehearsal break, they are all excited and bursting with energy, saying it’s a good time for them to be working with so many shows coming to Australia and many with their next projects lined up. They cannot wait to share this brand new version of Rocky Horror with Melbourne audiences.
Bianca Baykara a member of the ensemble said, “I’m so exited to be back at it. It’s been about four months since we closed in Perth so this break has been full of anticipation,” she laughs.
I had the pleasure of chatting to all of the cast, including Amanda Harrison as Magenta, Kristian Lavercombe as Riff Raff and Nadia Komazec as Columbia, who all dazzls in a preview of ‘The Time Warp’. The cast have enjoyed the rehearsal process and running the show, and the new feel McKenney and Jacobson have brought to the show.
Ross Chisari, also in the ensemble said, “It’s a new show – if you’ve seen it in Brisbane or Perth, it’s a completely different show.”
Jacobson sums it up pretty well when he said, “If you like having a good night out you should probably come see Rocky Horror, and if you don’t like having a good night out come and see Rocky Horror and have a good night unexpectedly, either way you should come see it. We’re going to be there. I’ll be there – I’ll see you there!”
The Rocky Horror Show will delight audiences from 12 July at Her Majesty’s Theatre.
For more details about the show: https://rockyhorror.com.au
Tickets from Ticketek.