Tube Talk: Make time for musical TV

By Paula Hendrickson

This is a good TV week for fans of musical theater. Fox’s revamp of the cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show is the latest musical to get an all-star, big-budget TV remake treatment, and PBS is airing a behind-the-scenes/making-of documentary about Hamilton – Broadway’s hottest ticket, and now Chicago’s too.

If there are any “unconventional conventionalists” out there who can’t abide the thought of a Rocky Horror Picture Show re-do even if Tim Curry is in it, Logo has you covered, too; the cable network is airing the original 1975 movie – starring Curry as Dr. Frank N. Furter, Susan Sarandon as Janet, and Barry Bostwick as Brad – Thursday night right after Fox’s remake ends. Perfect timing for anyone who wants to compare the two productions back-to-back.

As someone who has memorized every word of the original film’s soundtrack (as well as its precursor, The Rocky Horror Show theater production), I was skeptical of the remake, despite Curry’s legendary presence. But the preview I saw – from ‘Science Fiction, Double Feature’ through ‘Sweet Transvestite’ – was really good. It incorporates the usherette of the theater version while staying true to the lyrics and over-the-top nature of the 1975 movie. The production values are outstanding, but then again Fox’s budget was a lot larger than that of the original film. It’s well cast, too.

Following in Curry’s platform shoes would be daunting for anyone, but casting transgender actress Laverne Cox (Orange is the New Black) in the role worked. She clearly had fun with the campy role and even earned Curry’s seal of approval. This time around, Curry is The Narrator, Adam Lambert plays Eddie, and the performance of Penny Dreadful’s Reeve Carney as Riff Raff, a role played by Rocky Horror creator Richard O’Brien in the original film, is outstanding. Tony winner Annaleigh Ashford (Masters of Sex) is totally in her element as Columbia. Also on board: Victoria Justice as Janet, Ryan McCartan as Brad, Christina Milian as Magenta, Ivy Levan as The Usherette, Staz Nair as Rocky, and Tony winner Ben Vereen as Dr. Scott.

The new version will never replace the original film in my heart, but it’s fun to see a new take on the classic. It’s clear that those involved revered the first film.

As if that’s not enough musical theater fun for one week, PBS’s Fall Festival kicks off Friday with Hamilton’s America, a documentary about how Lin-Manuel Miranda’s ground-breaking, and record-breaking, musical Hamilton came to be.

Work on the documentary started before Hamilton even opened, so we get a glimpse of the creativity, inspiration, and energy that went into making the genre-defining (and defying) musical about the life of an immigrant orphan who became the first United States Secretary of the Treasury, one Alexander Hamilton.

If you already aren’t obsessed with Hamilton, you probably will be once you see Hamilton’s America. The best part? The Chicago production just opened and will be playing for a long time, so there’s time to save up and buy a ticket.

Now the question is, when will there be a documentary about the genesis of Rocky Horror?

Programming Notes

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (the 2016 TV movie) premieres Thursday at 7 p.m. on Fox.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (the original 1975 movie) airs Thursday starting at 9:05 p.m. on LOGO.

Hamilton’s America documentary airs Friday on PBS: 8 p.m. on WHA-Madison and 9 p.m. on WTTW-Chicago.

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