As an out-of-work actor, Richard O'Brien wrote The Rocky Horror Show to keep himself busy on winter evenings. Since his youth, O'Brien had developed a passion for science fiction and B horror movies; he wanted to combine elements of the unintentional humour of B horror movies, portentous dialogue of schlock-horror, Steve Reeves muscle flicks and fifties rock and roll into The Rocky Horror Show. A major theme running throughout the musical is transvestitism, which according to O'Brien was not originally meant to be as prominent as it would end up being.
O'Brien took a small amount of his unfinished Rocky Horror to director Jim Sharman, who decided he wanted to direct it at the small experimental space Upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, Chelsea which was used as a project space for new work. Sharman had received some success with the original Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar during which he met O'Brien, who had played King Herod for just one performance. Sharman brought in fellow Australians Nell Campbell and long-time scenic designer Brian Thomson to the production.
The original creative team was then rounded out by costume designer Sue Blane and musical director Richard Hartley, although Pete Moss would later take over as musical director. 'Veteran' of the new generation of stage producers Michael White was also brought in to produce Rocky Horror. As the musical went into rehearsal, the working title for it became It Came from Denton High, but it was changed just before previews at the suggestion of Sharman to The Rocky Horror Show.
After two previews, the show premiered – without an interval – at the Royal Court's 63-seat Theatre Upstairs on 19 June 1973 and ran until 20 July 1973. The cast included Tim Curry, Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell (billed as Little Nell), Julie Covington and Richard O'Brien, who made the production, which was all-out camp, a creative triumph and a critical and commercial success. Record producer Jonathan King saw it on the second night and signed the cast to make the original cast recording over a long weekend that was rushed out on his U.K. Records label. King was involved heavily in the initial promotion for the show as well as being the other backer of it financially with White.
The impact at the Royal Court Upstairs allowed the production be transferred to the 230-seat Chelsea Classic Cinema, a few blocks down on Kings Road from 14 August 1973 to 20 October 1973. Rocky Horror found a quasi-permanent home at the 500-seat King's Road Theatre (another cinema house) even further down Kings Road from 3 November 1973. The show received critical praise and won the 1973 Evening Standard Award for Best Musical.
It ended its run at the King's Road Theatre on 31 March 1979 before transferring to the Comedy Theatre (now the Harold Pinter Theatre) to begin performances on 6 April 1979. There, Rocky Horror required some restaging as it was the first theatre that the musical had played at with a traditional proscenium arch stage. For the first time, the musical was also broken into two acts with an interval. It finished its run there on 13 September 1980.
Lou Adler had made millions with risky ventures such as Monterey Pop. His record label, "Ode Records" was becoming known for harvesting experimental talent. In late winter of 1973, Adler attended a performance of the show with Britt Ekland and acting on impulse and seeing a hit, he met backstage with producers and within 36 hours had secured the American theatrical rights.
The show premiered at the Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles on March 24, 1974, running for nine months. The cast was all new except for Tim Curry. The show played to a full house and a deal was made with 20th Century Fox for a film. Fox executive Gordon Stulberg saw the show at the Roxy and agreed to invest 1 million dollars for a film project. Adler's attempt to turn his club into a playhouse was successful. The singer Meat Loaf remembers different celebrities that would come to the show as well as his meeting Elvis Presley at a performance. Senator Al Franken was a young lighting apprentice brought in by Sid Strong. He recalls Adler had the show mounted by producer Brian Avnet and that both Curry and O'Brien were brought in from the UK.
Original Sydney production
Harry M. Miller produced the original Sydney production of Rocky Horror, which opened on 15 April 1974, running for almost two years in the New Arts Cinema (formerly The Astor, later The Valhalla and now an office building) in Glebe. It starred Reg Livermore, Jane Harders, Kate Fitzpatrick, Arthur Dignam, Sal Sharah, John Paramor, Graham Matters, Bob Hudson and Maureen Elkner.
Original Broadway production
In early 1975 Lou Adler closed the show at the Roxy Theater after a ten-month run. This gave actors time to return to the UK for filming of the movie version. Adler planned to open on Broadway just before the release of the film. It was anticipated that this production would be as successful as Jesus Christ Superstar and serve as a public vehicle for the film version. It was unsuccessful and closed after 45 performances.
The third U.S. production opened at the Montgomery Playhouse in San Francisco on February 3, 1976 and played 103 performances, closing on May 30. The San Francisco production was directed by A. Michael Amarino, with Musical Direction and Arrangements by Michael Reno. The production had a new cast and starred David James as Dr. Frank N. Furter. The opening night cast included Roslyn Roseman as Usherette / Magenta, Needa Greene as Janet Weiss, Robert Reynolds as Brad Majors, Richard Gee as the Narrator, Buddy King as Riff-Raff, Paula Desmond as Columbia, Bob Dulaney as Rocky Horror, and Emil Borelli as Eddie / Dr. Everett Scott, with back-up vocals by Vikki D'Orazi, William J. Tacke and Kelly St. John.
The Rocky Horror Show transferred to the 820-seat Comedy Theatre on Panton Street in the West End, running from 6 April 1979 until 13 September 1980, closing the play's initial run of 2,960 performances. After occasional productions in the early 1980s, the play was revived for the Theatre Royal Hanley tour in 1984 and still is performed regularly in the U.K.