I went into watching this new version of Richard O’Brien’s iconic musical with trepidation. As a massive fan of the original, I was worried this 2016 remake was going to taint my love of Rocky Horror, not least because most of the reviews I’d read really slated it. I’ll admit, I went in expecting the worst.
From a cold viewpoint, Fox’s 2016 take is the same film as the one from 1975. The plot, the setting, the songs, and even almost all of the dialogue are virtually identical. It’s set in the same time period, and the same events occur, but there is one main difference: There’s an on-screen audience who do some of the now traditional dialogue participation, usually performed by a real audience.
Of course it isn’t quite the same. It’s a whole new cast, for starters, and it’s this cast that causes the biggest issue with the production. Now, much as I like the original film, and its cast, I’m not precious about it. I understand it’s a theatre musical as well as a film, and it’s only natural that over time many different people will fill the various roles. Who, specifically, have done so here is genuinely rather hit and miss.
To start with credit where it is due, Laverne Cox is excellent as Frank-n-Furter, both in style and voice. She’s a genuinely different take on Tim Curry’s Frank, and it works. Victoria Justice is a great Janet, and Ryan McCartan plays a bland Brad badly, although that’s keeping in character with the original role. Adam Lambert surprised by not trying to replicate Meatloaf’s Eddie, instead having more energy and making it his own, but Reeve Carney virtually channels Richard O’Brien’s Riff-Raff to the point where you wonder why they didn’t just hire O’Brien again. I’m torn on whether this makes Carney’s Riff-Raff good or bad. Columbia, played by Annaleigh Ashford, is almost Harley Quinn, but it works and she’s possibly even better than Nell Campbell. Possibly.
Less impressive are the others. Christina Milian is a totally forgettable Magenta, Ben Vereen makes a terrible Dr. Scott (a role performed almost as if they wanted Morgan Freeman instead), and – probably due, sadly, to his stroke – Tim Curry really doesn’t make a good Criminologist. Curry’s delivery just isn’t there. The worst, by a long way, is Staz Nair as Rocky. Sure, Rocky is meant to be an airhead with a body builder’s physique, but he walks like a robot and isn’t exactly stacked in the muscle department to make up for it. He’s a very strange choice, and his entrance song – Sword of Damocles – is a dire rendition here.
Moving onto the Rocky Horror music, it’s generally great. A few songs are arranged differently, which changes the feel a little, but they’re mostly still wonderful. Rose Tint My World may perhaps surpass the original, and Dammit, Janet, Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me and Wild and Untamed Thing are all at least as good. Sadly, the best known and most loved track in the musical, The Time Warp (after which this remake takes its subtitle), sounds much less fun and the dancing isn’t anywhere near as tight as it should be. Come on, Fox! That’s the most important bit!
Despite the bad points, and really there aren’t that many, I’m relieved. My memory has not been tarnished, and although The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do The Time Warp Again is far from perfect it’s perfectly watchable, enjoyable, and if it brings the show to a new audience with its sexy young talent (and Staz Nair), then that can’t be a bad thing. I’ll stick with the 1975 classic, but I’ll happily see this on the side every now and again.