The Rocky Horror Show was born out of creator Richard O’Brien’s love of the science fiction and B horror films of his youth. He set out to combine the unintentionally humorous elements of both genres with aspects of shlock-horror films, muscle flicks, and fifties rock and roll music; thus, like Dr. Frank ’N’ Furter’s monster, The Rocky Horror Show was born.
O’Brien began writing the musical in the early 1970s. At the time, he was living in London and struggling in his acting career. He presented his script to director Jim Sharman, with whom he had previously worked with on a production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Sharman was intrigued by the unique script and proposed staging it at the experimental performance space Upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre at Sloane Square in Chelsea. Brian Thomson was hired as set designer, Sue Blane as costume designer, Michael White as producer, and Richard Hartley as musical director. The cast comprised of Tim Curry (Dr. Frank ’N’ Furter), Patricia Quinn (Magenta), Nell Campbell (Columbia), Julie Covington (Janet Weiss), and O’Brien himself (Riff Raff).
The show opened in the tiny, 63-seat theatre space on June 19, 1973 and ran until July 20. It was a critical and commercial hit. The Rocky Horror Show won the 1973 Evening Standard Award for Best Musical.
On August 14, 1973, the production was transferred to Chelsea Classic Cinema, where it ran until October. It subsequently moved to the King’s Road Theatre — another cinema house and the show’s biggest venue yet — where it would successfully run until March 31, 1979. This would be followed by its final move to the Comedy Theatre on April 6, 1979. It finished its run there on September 13, 1980, bringing an end to the musical’s seven-year London run. In the subsequent decades, The Rocky Horror Show has enjoyed multiple UK revivals and national tours.
Lou Adler, an American producer, attended a performance and immediately sought to bring the show to America. He secured the American rights within 36 hours. The Rocky Horror Show’s first American production premiered in Los Angeles at the Roxy Theatre on March 24, 1974, where it ran for nine months. The cast included Tim Curry and Richard O’Brien, brought over from the original London cast. It was a massive success and consistently played to full houses.
The musical’s next international production was mounted in Melbourne, Australia, in October 1975. It ran for eighteen months and 458 performances. The production starred Max Phipps, Joan Brockenshire, Clive Blackie, and Shirley Anne Kear.
A production was staged on Broadway to precede the film’s upcoming release. Unfortunately, the production was unsuccessful and closed after only 45 performances. The third U.S. production opened in San Francisco at the Montgomery Playhouse on February 3, 1976. It was directed by A. Michael Amarino with musical direction by Michael Reno. The production starred David James, Roslyn Roseman, Needa Greene, Robert Reynolds, Richard Gee, Buddy King, Paula Desmond, Bob Dulaney, Emil Borelli, Bikki D’Orazi, William J. Tacke, and Kelly St. John. It played 103 performances and close on May 30, 1976. Since then, The Rocky Horror Show enjoyed a successful 1980 North American tour and a Broadway revival at the Circle in the Square Theatre that ran from October 2000 to January 2002.
In 1975, a film adaptation was made. Dubbed The Rocky Horror Picture Show, it was filmed in the United Kingdom at Bray studios and on location at Oakley Court, an old country estate. It starred Tim Curry, Nell Campbell, Patricia Quinn, and Richard O’Brien, once again reprising the roles they had originated. They were joined by Susan Sarandon (Janet Weiss), Barry Bostwick (Brad Majors), Jonathan Adams (Dr. Everett V. Scott), Peter Hinwood (Rocky Horror), Meat Loaf (Eddie), and Charles Gray (The Criminologist). The film holds the record for the longest running film release in history. Screenings of the film, often accompanied by simultaneous performances in front of the screen by a shadow cast and audiences games and rituals, may be attended in many major cities worldwide, including: New York City’s Bow Tie Chelsea Cinema, Los Angeles’ Nuart Theatre and Art Theatre, Toronto’s Underground Cinema, Paris’ Studio Galande, Munich’s Museum Lichtspiele, Genoa’s Cinema Instabile, Auckland’s Academy Cinemas, and Barcelona’s Cine Casablanca Gracia. For more screening locations, visit http://www.rockyhorror.com/participation/showtimes_listings.php?type=r.
The Rocky Horror Show and The Rocky Horror Picture Show have achieved a humongous cult following. Its influence can be seen in fashion and in the current tradition of rock musicals. For this author’s favorite example of Rocky Horror legacy, check out the following: https://youtu.be/QSa3EFCn-14.