There are two things that should always be remembered when going to any stage performance of Rocky Horror.

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Craig McLachlan as Frank-N-Furter. Picture: Gerald Moscarda/The West Australian

MUSICAL
The Rocky Horror Show
By Richard O’Brien
Three stars
Crown Theatre
REVIEW PIP CHRISTMASS

There are two things that should always be remembered when going to any stage performance of Rocky Horror. One, you must never, ever compare it to the cult 1975 film version starring Tim Curry as the decadent Dr Frank-N-Furter. Two, Richard O'Brien's cult paean to 1950s Hammer horror, comic books and schlocky sci-fi is meant to be deliberately B-grade in feel. That's the whole point.

But I couldn't help wishing that the latest version of this much-loved rock musical had toned down the ham factor a little bit. So over-the-top hammy is it, in fact, that at times it comes off as more of a karaoke singalong, Glee-like pantomime than a fresh, sexy take on a 40-year-old classic.

Don't get me wrong, the majority of the audience on the night I went was eating up Craig McLachlan's over-the-top performance as Frank-N-Furter with a giant, glitter- covered spoon. The production received an extended standing ovation and yes, everyone - including me - got up and danced to a reprise of Time Warp and Sweet Transvestite at the show's close. Those two songs are so iconic, so infectious, and so well done that they are probably worth the price of entry alone.

There is no doubting that Rocky Horror is tons of fun if you allow yourself to go on the show's rollercoaster ride of high camp, silly costumes, bawdy sexuality and rollicking tunes. But this production exaggerates everything so much, from Riff Raff's gangling limp and sneering voice to Brad's bespectacled nerdiness and Rocky's lack of grey matter that it feels closer in spirit to a spoof than a renewed spotlight on what has made this show such a hit over the years.

There are fantastic individual performances, however. Christie Whelan Browne gets the tone just right as Janet, and Erika Heynatz's double whammy as both Magenta and the Science Fiction Double Feature-singing Usherette is marvellous.

Perth-trained Tim Maddren plays Brad straight until about two-thirds into the show, when the high-ham factor seems to infect the entire cast. Ashlea Pyke nails Columbia's tap-dancing routine during Time Warp and Tony Farrell, as The Narrator, is suitably sombre and professorial throughout.

But it's McLachlan's performance as Frank-N-Furter that will divide most hardcore fans of the film. He does look the part - buff, bursting out of his corset and bulging out of his black satin briefs - but he's just a little too intent on playing the audience for laughs.

Every walk is a mincing wiggle; dialogue is teased out and exaggerated for added comic effect (and yes, he gets the laughs and the wolf-whistles). Of course, Frank-N-Furter is meant to be camp and melodramatic, but here, it's all just so overplayed.

There is no doubt the cast has the singing and dancing chops to keep feet tapping and heads bobbing. The Phantom chorus (featuring WAAPA graduates Vincent Hooper and Meghan O'Shea) is excellent, adding weight and vocal heft to ensemble pieces like Over at the Frankenstein Place and Hot Patootie (Bless My Soul).

The strength of the final scenes, in which McLachlan strips away all the exaggerations to sing I'm Going Home and Don't Dream It, only made me wish the rest had been as mesmerising. McLachlan has a fantastic singing voice, and he captures the poignancy of his character's journey in these moments. Finally - but just a little too late - all the elements seemed to come together.