The cast album for Glee’s upcoming version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show is now available. Aficionados of the original may well wonder why anyone would want one; after all why mess with a classic. On the other hand messing with classics has always the possibility of making it live again for new generations.
In the context of the TV show, a high school musical production of the show about a transvestite and his muscle flexing creation and the problems such subject matter might cause would make for an interesting if not controversial episode. In the context of a cast album, considerations of that sort are less compelling. You want a cast album because you want to hear the music again, and if that is the measure of this album, I have to say that my own reaction is mixed.
There is no question that the young Glee voices are for the most part far better than those of the original cast. Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, and Barry Bostwick were not exactly noted for their singing voices. But it really wasn’t their voices that made the film a cult hit; it was the campy way they dealt with the material. Take for example Tim Curry’s “Sweet Transvestite” compared with the Glee version sung by Mercedes. Mercedes is a singer and she sings like a soul diva. Her version of the song could well got to the top of the charts.
Curry is an actor, and he acts like a diva. His performance is over the top camp because he is playing a transvestite. It is a performance in which style and content mesh in a perfect whole. There is no question that musically Curry can’t hold a candle to Mercedes, but for those of us old enough to have seen the film at the Waverly Theatre in Greenwich Village musical superiority isn’t what it’s all about. I can’t speak for younger audiences. For the elders among us, Mercedes at least antici. . . . . . . . .pates.
The album, presumably like the episode, doesn’t include all the songs from the film. The most notable omissions are “I’m Going Home” and “I Can Make You a Man.” Probably the one song from the original that can compete vocally with the Glee version is Meatloaf’s “Whatever Happened to Saturday Night” (“Hot Patootie-Bless My Soul” on the original). This is Meatloaf at his best, and Meatloaf at his best is hard to top.
The seven songs on the new album are much more polished than those on the original. They try to emulate the campiness, and perhaps in the context of the episode they manage to do so, but on the album they never quite manage it. The orchestrations are too often overwhelming. The chorus is overpowering. The placid boyish Chris Colfer is no match for the raw spooky quality of Richard O’Brien in “The Time Warp.” Lea Michele in her duet with Cory Monteith on “Damn It Janet” and Jayma Mays “Touch A Touch A Touch Me” are both excellent and closer in spirit to the original. “There’s a Light (Over at the Frankenstein Place)” gets the full Glee treatment, and it works well with this song. “Science Fiction” is a song that will work, even when the singers more than likely haven’t the slightest idea what they’re singing about.
Again, if you’re one of those people who go to the midnight showings of the film, dressed as brides and clutching your toast and rice, you’ll probably not be happy with this album, then again you’re not likely to be happy with anything but the original. If you see this as a tribute to the original, and a means of presenting it to a new audience not likely to be attuned to the camp of the original, perhaps you’ll take it on its musical merits, and cut it some slack. Those of you without any preconceived axes will probably find a lot to like.
A note: This review is based on a download version of the album which didn’t identify any of the singers or musicians on each of the tracks. Nor did it identify which of the show’s actors were playing which parts in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Much of this performance information comes from other websites.