News & Commentary, Screen, Stage, TV

Trans icon Laverne Cox to play the 'Sweet Transvestite' in Fox's Rocky Horror

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Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox is set to take on the role of Dr Frank N Furter in Fox’s hotly anticipated TV version of The Rocky Horror Show. The role has traditionally been played by cisgender men (with some women taking on the role in the 40 years since the film of the musical was released) but Cox will be the first transgender woman to play the role in a major production.
The two-hour special will be directed and choreographed by Kenny Ortega, who is best known for his work on the High School Musical series, Michael Jackson’s This Is It concert, and the musical film Hocus Pocus. There’s no airdate announced yet, but Rocky Horror is part of a trend from American TV studios airing made-for-TV live versions of musicals as “event TV”, starting with NBC’s The Sound of Music, Peter Pan, The Wiz, and Fox’s Grease.
By today’s standards Rocky Horror is hardly a beacon for sexual enlightenment — one of its most well-known songs Sweet Transvestite extensively uses the term transvestite, which is now considered to be derogatory and not necessarily an accurate label for Frank’s identity — but the rock musical was revolutionary at the time of its premiere and decidedly raunchy, attracting millions of cult fans around the world.
After some of the belaboured and borderline homo- and transphobic performances that we’ve seen from recent Frank N Furters (not least Australia’s Craig McLachlan), the casting decision represents a clear shift back towards honouring the queer individuals which inspired the musical in the first place.
With her role on Orange is the New Black, Cox became the first trans woman of colour to have a leading role in a mainstream American drama series. She’s been an outspoken advocate for the trans community and last year appeared on the cover of Time magazine.

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