Imagine the boy next door trading in his Levi's for fishnet stockings, his all-American sister sporting a sexy French maid's outfit. It's a scene that's played out at movie theaters around the world every Saturday at midnight-all because starving actor/playwright Richard O'Brien needed to pay the rent.
DON'T DREAM IT, BE IT
In the early 1970s, Richard O'Brien had just been fired as a chorus boy in a musical on London's version of Broadway, the West End.With no money and a wife and child to support, and lots of time on his hands, O'Brien penned a bizarre musical about cross-dressing, sex-starved aliens. He called it The Rocky Horror Show. And somehow this weird show actually got produced. It opened at London's Royal Court Theatre in 1973 and was an amazing success; it was even named the best musical of the year.
Shortly after its debut, producer Lou Adler bought the play and moved it across the Atlantic to Los Angeles' Roxy Theater, where it met with critical and audience acclaim. It also caught the eye of filmmakers at 20th Century Fox, who were sure they could transform it into a hit movie. The film version starred newcomers Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, and the singer Meat Loaf. It took eight weeks to shoot and cost $1 million to make. But before the movie was released, the play opened in New York...and flopped.
Because the play had bombed, 20th Century Fox spent little on publicity for the film, and it played in very few theaters. The movie initially had about as much success as the Broadway show-critics hated it and audiences stayed away in droves. It appeared that The Rocky Horror Picture Show was dead in the water.
But because of the play's early success at the Roxy, the movie did well in Los Angeles, so Adler was convinced that the film just hadn't found its audience. In 1976 he persuaded New York's Waverly Theater, in the heart of Bohemian Greenwich Village, to begin midnight showings. The tactic was tried in a few other select cities across the country as well. The hope was that it would catch on with cult audiences, just as offbeat films like El Topo and George Romero's horror classic Night of the Living Dead had done.
JUST A JUMP TO THE LEFT
Within months, a phenomenon began to take hold. Audiences decided to tear down the invisible wall that separated them from the on-screen action. They weren't content just watching the movie from their seats-they began to dress as their favorite characters and perform along with the film, creating a show within a show. Seeing the movie became an interactive adventure, the Rocky experience was now part movie, part sing-along, part fashion show, and all party. Being in the audience at The Rocky Horror Picture Show now involved shouting lines at the screen, covering up with newspapers during scenes with rain, squirting water pistols to simulate rain in the theater, throwing rice during the wedding sequences, and dancing in the aisles doing the "Time Warp", the film's contagious anthem.
(Image credit: Flickr use José María Mateos)The Rocky phenomena spread across the United States, giving birth to a midnight movie industry that spanned from major metropolitan areas right through to the straightlaced suburbs of America's heartland.
Almost 30 years after its initial debut in the attic of London's Royal Court Theatre, Rocky still plays every weekend at midnight in dozens of theaters across the United States and around the world. And in November 2000, The Rocky Horror Show returned to Broadway...this time to critical praise and commercial success. It was nominated for several Tony Awards, including best revival.
Can you picture Russell Crowe in high heels and a black bustier? In the 1980s, the Academy Award-winning star of Gladiator toured Australia and New Zealand singing and dancing through more than 400 performances of The Rocky Horror Show as the cross-dressing Dr. Frank N. Furter.
_________________________The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Supremely Satisfying Bathroom Reader.
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