The Rocky Horror Show started life as a small scale science-fiction rock musical, presented upstairs at the Royal Court theatre in June, 1973. The music, lyrics and book for the musical were written by Richard O’Brien. Jim Sharman produced and directed the show, which became popular very quickly with a subversive group of young adults who embraced its themes of acceptance, tolerance, self realisation and the mantra of “Don’t dream it, be it.”
It made its U.S debut in 1974 in Los Angeles before moving to the Belasco theatre on Broadway, where it closed after just 45 shows, despite being nominated for both a Tony and a Drama Desk award in that time.
From there, O’Brien and Sharman adapted the stage show into a film; The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which was released in 1975. The movie saw many of the original London and Broadway actors recreating their roles on film, including Tim Curry and Dr. Frank-N-Furter, Richard O’Brien as Riff-Raff, Patricia Quinn as Magenta, Nell Campbell as Columbia and Meatloaf as Eddie. Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon were brought on board as Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, respectively.
The film was critically panned, but it slowly acquired a cult following when shown as the midnight movie at cinemas, and audiences started participating in the film, dressing up as the characters, calling out ad-libs and dancing along to the “Time Warp”. Now, The Rocky Horror Picture Show has the longest running theatrical release ever and still has a huge following worldwide.
My personal story begins when I was 10, and watched the film at a friend’s house. I don’t remember much except being horrified that they were eating Eddie for dinner. I can’t say Frank’s dress sense bothered me. I re-visited the film when I was sixteen and from there, my love for the show grew and grew.
As my level of understanding deepened, I developed a firm love for the character of Frank. I loved his ballsy masculinity coupled with his love and acceptance of his femininity. I loved his openness about sex, his free acknowledgement of his enjoyment for it, and his fluidity made me weak at the knees. Frank is deeply sexual, inherently male, and yet he rocks makeup, stocking and suspenders like he was born in them.
Tim Curry embraced this role. It’s no exaggeration to say that he really did make it his; originating the part in the West End and on Broadway. By the time it came to filming the movie, he knew what O’Brien and Sharman wanted from him, and also what audiences would expect. He plays it to perfection; just the right side of B-Movie pastiche to make audiences still feel for him at the end of the movie. I’ve now seen seven Franks on stage and the only one who has come close to emulating Curry’s epic performance is David Bedella, who returned to the role for the Rocky Horror Show’s gala performance back in September, to raise money for Amnesty International.
As an actress, the role of Janet would be my ultimate dream. Her shy, virginal innocence which eventually leads to her sexual awakening at the hands of Frank is a dream to portray both on stage and screen. In fact, each and every role has something great about it for many differing reasons, and that is maybe why the film works as well as it does.
Back in the ‘70’s, being openly gay was still relatively unheard of. Certainly if people were out, it would generally be only to close family and friends, and even then it often wasn’t very well received. At the time of RHPS release, being gay had been legal in Great Britain for less than ten years. All of a sudden, there was this musical, with great rock music and an ultra talented cast, telling us and, indeed, demonstrating to us, that it was okay to be gay, bisexual, pansexual…whatever you damn well please. It was okay to be in touch with your own sexuality. It was okay to want to explore. Decadence was fun, something to be relished and explored, not hidden away like some dirty little secret.
Even as I discovered more about myself and the world around me, growing up in the 00’s, RHPS’ message still resonated. It still holds today, too, and I suspect it always will do. The Rocky Horror Picture Show invites us all to kick up our heels, have fun, sing along and leave all our troubles behind us. In that respect, it does the job that any good musical should do, but it also does so much more.
Thank you, Richard O’Brien, Tim Curry, and the rest of RHPS, for gifting us with the most deliciously decadent and fun musical out there. Thank you for encouraging us to be ourselves. Thank you for delivering such a positive message of acceptance and thank you, so much, for the TIME WARP!
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