By Freedom Chavalier
The Rocky Horror Show took its first jump to the left at the Royal Court Theatre, upstairs, on 19 June 1973. Its run consisted of 2,960 shows, with a final curtain coming down on 13 September 1980. But that would not be the last the world would see of Dr. Frank-N-Furter and his Unconventional Conventionalists.
The celebrated show is the brainchild of writer, actor, musician and performer: Richard O’Brien.
Born Richard Timothy Smith in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England on 25 March 1942, the self-described “runt of the litter” of four children, had a Sword of Damocles hanging over his own head from the start. As often befalls one-of-a-kind creations, delicate for their exceptionality, it was feared the sickly infant would not live to see his first sunrise. He, of course, did see it and many more English mornings but when he turned 10, at his father’s urging, the family traded life in the city for a sheep farm in rural Tauranga, New Zealand.
Young Richard was often to be found at the local cinema losing hours watching back-to-back showings of genre classics, like Dr. X and The Day The Earth Stood Still. What we absorb in our youth will often take hold and proffer great influence over adult choices, and farmer Richard was no different.
In 1964, he supplanted agricultural arts for more artistic ones and moved back to England. In London he worked at a series of smaller jobs until his horseman skills, cultivated on the pastures of Tauranga, landed him a gig as a stuntman for local film productions. But that desire to create was already gnawing within him. Soon his decision to pursue acting found him studying the Stanislavsky acting method locally and, like all actors before and ever since, he availed himself of whatever paying gigs came his way.
Suddenly you get a break.
It wasn’t long before better opportunities started to come his way. He found work in Gulliver’s Travels in 1968. In 1969 he was invited to join the cast of Hair, where he first met fellow actor Tim Curry (appearing in his first professional role.)
Whole pieces seem to fit into place.
His casting as Herod’s understudy in Jesus Christ Superstar would prove to be one of the most fortuitous jobs of his career. Although his time with the rock opera was short lived, it brought him together with Australian director, Jim Sharman for the first time.
What followed next was a series of charting singles he recorded with wife Kimi Wong (whom he also met during his time in HAIR), including the song Eddie that ended up as part of the final book musical.
Richard’s focus on developing as a songwriter resulted in his writing of a musical tribute piece to the movies that had shared so much of his youth: Science Fiction, Double Feature. The tune garnered the flourishing songwriter favourable criticism and his mind began to ruminate on the possibilities of cultivating an entire musical experience for the theatre.
Richard Hartley (with whom he had worked in Sam Sheppard’s The Tooth of Crime), and Jim Sharman gathered one night at Richard O’Brien’s flat to discuss the prospect of doing a show together. As the legend goes, by the time Sharman had heard the four-minute song Science Fiction, Double Feature for the third time, he signed on to do the yet unwritten play, for a 5 week run at the Royal Court Upstairs.
Tonight is the night that my beautiful creature is destined to be born.
And Rocky was born – to magnificent audience feeback. “It took off by word of mouth,” says Patricia Quinn, Magenta in both the original 1973 theatrical production and the iconic film, “…by the end of the fifth week, Mick Jagger, Bianca and Elliot Gould were queuing for tickets.” Soon its popularity surged beyond the capacity of the 60-seat experimental theatre. It was temporarily housed in a converted cinema in Chelsea, before it landed at the Kings Road Theatre for the remainder of its memorable run.
Swedish film star Brit Ekland brought American music producer Lou Adler to the see show. The musical stayed with Adler, and less than two days after attending, he had secured the American rights to the show. The Rocky Horror Show premiered at The Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles 19 March 1974, a mere nine months after its initial performance. From here it would move to Broadway, and the now (in)famous film would grow to become the very definition of a cult success, remaining in constant circulation at select cinemas ever since.
With its inspirational corset-clad mantra of Don’t Dream It – Be It, it is small wonder that O’Brien’s originally penned camp musical continues to find itself in a constant state of revival.
Following a sell-out Australian tour in 2014, The Rocky Horror Show returned for a limited run at the Sydney Lyric Theatre in April, and will be taking up residence at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre starting 12 June 2015, with many shows already sold out.
Star of stage and screen, Craig McLachlan, revives his Helpmann Award winning performance as Frank. Musical theatre favourites Amy Lehpamer (Once, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and Stephen Mahy (Grease, Jersey Boys) play Janet and Brad, the innocent soon-to-be-weds caught with a flat, and Jayde Westaby, as Magenta (Chicago, The Rocky Horror Show UK tour).
Kristian Lavercombe whom O’Brien himself has described as “a fantastically talented Riff Raff,” joined the Australian tour after travelling the world as the notable hunchback. First drawn to the show as a teenager, Lavercombe says, “Rocky Horror has been a big part of my life. I’ve been in several different productions,” having donned Frank’n’furter’s garters and Brad Majors spectacles before his tenure as the Handyman. And how did he feel about stepping into such a well-known role?
“When people think of Riff Raff they rightly think of Richard O’Brien’s iconic performance. When a person is so famous for playing a certain role it can be difficult for people to imagine the role being done any other way. When I first rehearsed the role I think I was conscious of trying to find a happy medium between giving the old Rocky fans what they wanted and also attempting to bring as much of myself to it as I could. Now when I’m on stage I’m completely unaware of that aspect.” Lavercombe has even worked as Riff Raff along Richard O’Brien in the Narrator’s role. “Richard once told me that, ‘We must have been born from the same alien mother.’” It’s easy to see why Lavercombe considers that “possibly the most treasured comment” of his career.
Other familiar faces, returning from the sold out 2014 Australian tour include Nicholas Christo (My Fair Lady) in the dual roles of Eddie and Dr Scott, and Brendan Irving (An Officer and a Gentleman) as the object of Frank’s attention: Rocky. The toe tapping Columbia, is played by Angelique Cassimatis (Mary Poppins, King Kong), and the Narrator, none other than stage and television veteran Bert Newton (Wicked, The Producers.) Rounding out the spectacularly talented ensemble, The Phantoms are played by Meghan O’Shea (A Chorus Line), Suzanne Steele (Wicked), Darren Tyler (Legally Blonde) and Drew Weston (Mary Poppins), and the Swing/Dance Captain is Nicholas Eaton (War Horse.)
It’s astounding. Time is fleeting.
Catch Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show at the Comedy Theatre, Melbourne from 12 June 2015.
Performance Times are: Tues 7pm, Wed–Sat 8pm, Sat matinee 2pm, Sunday 1pm & 5.30pm and tickets prices start at $69.90
For bookings: ticketmaster.com.au or phone 1300 111 011 Groups 8+ call 1300 889 278