by Mark Jabara Ellison.

     Audiences in Sydney in 1974 were used to surprising entertainment from Harry M. Miller, he had produced 2 major successes so far that had already pushed the boundaries for Australian audiences used to the likes of My Fair Lady and Oklahoma; the first was Hair in 1969, a show with nudity and talk of drugs, sex and anti-establishment ideals. Hair was directed by Jim Sharman as was the following Harry M. Miller blockbuster Jesus Christ Superstar, a show that questioned the very basis of Christian thought, and set to rock music, as Hair had been. Jim Sharman was the first Australian director allowed to direct an imported Broadway show, as we had previously imported the director too. With Hair the set and structure had been laid down in America, but with Jesus Christ Superstar, London was yet to mount a production and the production that had opened on Broadway October 1971 was disliked by the musical's original creators, the Australians could try something homegrown and unique. Jim Sharman's friend Brian Thomson designed the radical sets for the Australian production of JCS and when the final product was seen by Tim Rice, he was so pleased with the results, he hired both Jim Sharman and Brian Thomson to mount the first British production, in London. Here they met Richard O'Brien, who understudied the role of Herod, and became involved in the process of realising a new rock musical idea he had, that opened in 1973 and became a West End block-buster that ran for nearly 10 years, The Rocky Horror Show.

     The Australian public were aware of our success with Superstar, as it had created a huge sensation, having 2 major runs that kick-started the singing careers of many of Australia's future pop stars and actors, among them Reg Livermore had drawn headlines for his over-the-top 9 minute performance of herod in the Melbourne run of the show. A tour followed. When The Rocky Horror Show was advertised as opening, with Harry M. Miller's name across the top, it was easy to see an audience was already waiting for another entertainment shock. Perhaps not quite the shock they did get, but one that the country was ready for, related to, and went quite mad for in a way that only Aussies do. Jim Sharman and Brian Thomson were locals and had just directed and designed the original British and American productions and actual first run of the show ever, here they were at home.

     The show had opened the month previous to Sydney's premiere in Los Angeles at The Roxy, a nightclub that had been opened in the early 70's on Sunset Strip. The American producer Lou Adler had seen the show in London and took it to this venue, along with the London's show's original main cast member Tim Curry. I have no idea how the show played in this venue, as it had never been a movie house, which to me is intrinsic for the show to work. It only ran for 9 months and failed in it's transfer to Broadway. None of this has any bearing on the production in Sydney, as neither Lou Adler, nor Tim Curry had anything to do with the smash success of the Original Australian production.

     The Australian production had the original director, the original designer and a cast of Australians, who after work-shopping the show and being allowed to run riot with the concepts and performance, produced a night's entertainment that ran for 18 months in Sydney (taking a million dollars at the box office) and another year in melbourne whilst spawning Reg Livermore's Rockyesque one-man shows and a legion of followers that seems to have never ended. A Cast Recording was made (a rarity for Aussie productions) that was the standard Rocky recording here for years.

     The Sydney venue was the rat infested, sadly neglected and almost unknown New Arts Cinema, Glebe. A suburban cinema built in the 30's as The Astor, in a part of town the general public would normally steer clear of, unless looking for trouble. This was the first of the night's shocks, as people arrived and sat amongst what appeared to be the earmarks of a demolition crew in the process of laying the poor old theatre to rest. The walls were draped in canvas adorned with ACME demolition signs, scaffolding ran the length of the theatre up both sides and onto the stage whilst ushers and usherettes in dark uniforms and plastic masks wandered the aisles like zombies, occasionally sitting next to some unsuspecting patron staring at them for ages till they turned and screamed, sending the theatre into fits of laughter. What was this all about? Why a dumpy old picture theatre, when there are so many beautiful theaters in town, and why the cheap scare tactics in a Harry M. Miller show? All would be revealed!

The show starts with 3 masked ushers coming on to the stage, there's a blackout, scream, the cinema curtains open to reveal a screen with an apology for the inconvenience during demolition sign projected, on a block in front of the screen sits an usherette (first played here by Kate Fitzpatrick and later that year by Julie McGregor), looking every bit the trampy Aussie girl one would expect in Glebe at the time, she is covered by a thin guaze. The ushers turn to the audience and yell "Glad you could come tonight" they rip off her covering, she is spotlit, she stands with her "lolly tray" in front, throws gold glitter in the air, and sings the opening song "Science Fiction" and all starts to make sense. Most of the audience would have spent much of their youth in theatres just like the one they were sitting in now. They had seen the double bill features week after week, in a time before TV 1956, and even after when films didn't go direct to TV and missing them meant perhaps never seeing them again. The same films (often cheaper releases than the city cinemas) had done the rounds of country and suburban theatres all over Australia, which gave this audience a common bond in their understanding of the film references in the opening song and in the play in general. When the "Usherette" sang her funny song citing names and events from old science fiction movies and getting really excited about these character's escapades as if they really existed in this other world of old movie houses and double features; we too had sat in the dark and dreamed of more exciting times than Australia seemed to offer, exciting times that American films had flaunted at us for generations, the lack of depth of reality unknown to us. New British films of any popularity were from the Hammer studios full of lesbian vampires and busty wenches, or Carry On films full of dirty jokes and busty wenches. This show starts with the horror/science fiction plotline of 50's American B-grade pictures, then collides with the bawdiness of Britain's new 70s attempt to draw cinema audiences with sex. The opening number sets the story, we are sitting in a decaying movie house watching the unfolding muddled fantasy of an usherette, we are about to experience a mix of old film cliche's filtered through the mind of a sex-crazed slag.
She then becomes the maid in her own story, returning, at the end, to being an usherette to lament the tragic outcome, but remind us that it's available at the next "double feature".

     When the film was made, under American production, the idea of an usherette introducing the story was dropped in favour of a large pair of lips singing the opening song. The lips belonged to Patricia Quinn who had played the original Usherette in London but the voice on screen is that of the writer Richard O'Brien, and so the old movie house usherette motif is lost. In the American Roxy cast production 1974, they had an usherette ( a very stylised one ), but you weren't in a cinema!?! When the show went to Broadway in 75 it followed it's American styling, playing at a non-cinema and closed after less than 50 performances due to incredibly bad reviews.

     The story unfolds once the curtain rises, a young newly engaged American couple have car trouble in the rain and seek refuge at a nearby castle, all done through mimed actions, song and lighting. A narrator appears in the spotlight to one side of the stage and stays throughout the show to reflect and comment as if brought in to study this event for higher authorities.

     Now inside the castle, the couple are introduced to the "hired help", Magenta the maid (obviously the usherette appearing in her own fantasy, as a lusty wench), Riff Raff the butler, a cross between Jeeves and Igor and Columbia a groupie and fan of the Master. The highlight of the show comes next with the Master of the house's arrival via the back door to the auditorium, with a sudden bang, the audience whip their heads around to see a cloaked figure completely covered in black, it's Reg Livermore, as Frank N Furter, and he struts down a catwalk that runs from one of the backdoors right onto the stage. Once onstage he drops the Vampire cape to reveal is is wearing a corset and fishnets, a necklace of impossible pearls and a face full of grotesque make-up reminiscent of Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to baby Jane. His entrance song is Sweet Transvestite which he delivers with scary bravado in the kind of shrieking clipped hollywood speak of the Golden Age; it's Bette Davis on smack, complete with track marks up the arms. The song is over and Frank exits to prepare his "creation" while the rest of the castle's lodgers entertain a horrified Brad and Janet with a "song from home" and the most famous song from the show The Time Warp.

     The film version filled out the cast with extra roles that had Brad and Janet arriving whilst a party was ensuing. The Time Warp is presented in the film before Sweet Transvestite as a party number, with Frank arriving via an elevator at the end of the tune. This does work in the film version, but unfortunately has also been adopted into revivals of the show.

     After the Time Warp, for next 90 minutes the audience belong to Reg, he is impossible to take your eyes off, and for those who feel enough courage to express their shock or dislike verbally, Reg's Frank was ready to launch himself off the stage onto the victim and literally shake the shit out of them, till they apologised. The character is corruption, and Reg played it to the max, as poor Brad and Janet are witness to his "creating life" (in the guise of a Frankenstein style construction of a blonde muscle-bound play-thing called Rocky), murdering an ex-lover Eddie (a rocker who resides in the fridge after having half his brain removed to use for Rocky) despite protests from house-mate Columbia (a fan of Frank's but also a love interest of Eddie), and are then seduced in turn after promises of secrecy. Frank's fun comes unglued when Eddie's uncle, Dr Scott (friend of Brad and Janet who by now has discovered Brad's infidelity and so has had sex with Rocky) arrives and announces that the household have not only taken Eddie but are Aliens. Confused?

     Frank's solution is to freeze everyone, dress them up in corsetry and make them dance for him in a floorshow, one of the show stopping moments of the night. Frank joins in and is only brought back to some sort of reality by the maid and butler dressed in space gear appearing to say it's all over and he's failed. He sings his final number about Going Home, which in it's own grotesque way is one of the most beautiful moments ever on the Australian stage and caused many tears. Frank has misunderstood, he is to die, and along with a protesting Columbia and Rocky is killed, the house is "beamed" away via some bright lights, Brad and Janet lament their loss of innocence with a song Super Heroes, the curtain closes and the Usherette reprises her Science fiction song with sorrowful lyrics this time. The audience jumps to their feet screaming and clapping. They will never forget it.

     When the film was released here in early 1976, the show was still playing in Melbourne and had only closed 6 months earlier in Sydney. The film did immediately well in Queensland where the show had never played, and where the very act of seeing it in a suburban Queensland cinema in some way compensated for no usherette, as the explanation wasn't needed for an audience who saw the Hammer Horror references and understood where it was coming from. In Southern States, the feeling was not the same, the audience feeling a part of the show was gone,Tim Curry was a weak Frank in comparison, and why bother when the "real thing" had just been on. Over time this faded as the show's memory passed and the newer generation had no live show reference. The film still contained all the basic concepts and they were still relevant to an Aussie audience and so the Southern fondness for the film eventually joined Queensland's, where the film had played non-stop since it opened until 1980.

     Revivals of the show began seriously in 1981, when the British actor Daniel Abineri was in Australia after having performed the role of Frank in London. His film like, yet nasty portrayal of the role, original script format, along with original set designs by Brian Thomson made this a huge success that ran on and off for the next 7 years. Not really a patch on the original productions, it still had enough of the original spirit to make it well worth seeing. Reg Livermore reprised his role as Frank in the Brisbane leg of the less imaginative 1984 tour of this version, a wonderful but far more restrained performance, ten years after the fact.