Christopher Malcolm interview - Crazed Imaginations
Reprinted from Crazed Imaginations #75: an original interview with the original Brad Majors from the Theatre Upstairs (and later Vance Parker), Christopher Malcolm. Interview by Ruth Fink-Winter
“A bit of fun”: the original Brad reminisces - Crazed talks with Christopher Malcolm
Christopher Malcolm recalls the scene backstage at the Royal Court, during the production of Sam Shepard’s “The Unseen Hand” with director Jim Sharman, designer Brian Thomson, musical director Richard Hartley and an actor named Richard O’Brien. Richard had a couple of songs he shared with the cast. “One of the particular ones that I remember was Sword of Damocles,” says Malcolm. “[Richard] sang that in the dressing room and we all just fell about. Then he sang Sweet Transvestite and that’s when Jim Sharman got interested. [Richard said,] ‘It’s a little musical I’m writing called They Came From Denton High.’”
"We never considered it more than a bit of fun,” Malcolm continues, remembering the original London production of the musical that became the Rocky Horror Show. “During rehearsals, no one got it. Jim Sharman kept trying to give us hints. He took us to a screening of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (Russ Meyer); he said, “That’s how I want you to play it.”
It was in the third week of rehearsal when the cast started to perform the songs with drums and piano. “Suddenly, the songs began to work,” says Malcolm. “The whole thing started to gel, and we all got very excited. From that rehearsal on, it just took off. By the technical rehearsal, word was spreading like wildfire.” Having signed up for “a bit of fun,” Malcolm notes, later on in the run, “I found myself singing to Mick Jagger—[he and wife Bianca] sat in the front row!”
Malcolm spent five months with the show, following it from the Theatre Upstairs down the road to The Classic, an abandoned cinema (where the song “Eddie’s Teddy” was added and the play’s choreography redone). He later participated in the Japanese production, and came back for two weeks to fill in as Brad. “That was it,” he muses. “I didn’t have anything to do with Rocky Horror from 1976-77 through 1989.”
The Japanese production came around the time the film appeared, about which Malcolm is less enthused: “I don’t think it’s a very good film, actually. It’s very slow. But its slowness contributes to its fame. I think here Timmy puts in a fabulous performance. So do Pat and Richard and Nell. There’s some really great design ideas in it. As a story I don’t think it has the same effect that the play has….It’s an icon, so what I think about it doesn’t fucking matter.
“I wasn’t in the movie; that was a bit of a sore spot. In 1974 we all did a Sam Shepard play: The Tooth of Crime. The same team. So by this time, they were all talking about the film, and no one was talking to me. It was a really horrible time for me. Jim Sharman explained to me he was told ‘we have to cast a Brad and Janet known to the American audience.’ He rang me up and asked me to play Ralph: I put the phone down on him.”
Malcolm did attend a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show the night before heading out for Japan. “It was very weird sitting, watching this movie…it’s the only time I’ve seen it. Everybody booed when Brad [Barry Bostwick] came on: they were being loyal to me.”
When asked what he brought to the role of Brad, Malcolm answers, “Authenticity!….I was brought up in Canada on a farm,” says Malcolm. “…Vernon, BC. 10,000 people, Main Street, two lights, and A&W Root Beer at one end of the street, a place called The Dip at the other. American Graffiti is a very good film: it was my teenage life!” He continues, “It’s great to have an American Brad and Janet. You don’t have to tell them anything….I think the more innocently they play it, the better it works. If their faces are innocently dumfounded at what’s about to happen to them, the audience picks up on that and lives it.”
Of course, Malcolm was also in Shock Treatment, but the memories aren’t all happy. “For me, it was an absolute disaster as a project. [Richard] wrote this little part for me: I went and did my bit.” Still, he’s kept some mementos: “On my wall I’ve got the original costume design which Sue did for me [as Vance Parker], which she gave me for my fiftieth birthday.” He’s also got the original costume plot for the Rocky Horror Show, another present from Blane.
Malcolm became a producer in the late 1970s, producing shows in London’s West End. “My first actual production job was a Richard O’Brien production, Disaster. I produced that and I was in it too. There was Pat [Quinn], Richard was in it of course, I was in it, Jonathan Adams…We had a great time. It was the summer of 1978. I wish we had done a recording of it: it had wonderful songs.”
Eventually, Malcolm’s work as a producer brought him back to the Rocky Horror Show: “In 1988, I told Richard we should revive it. In 1989, we formed the [Rocky Horror] Company. They opened July 4, 1990 at the Piccadilly. It ran for a year…since then I’ve been basically in charge of worldwide productions of the Rocky Horror Show. I’ve directed myself 16 productions of it and produced many others…I’ve seen many countries which I wouldn’t otherwise have seen.” Among these countries, he lists Argentina, South Africa (“where it was a big hit”), Japan, Australia, and most of Europe. “I was just in Milan,” states Malcolm. “We’re in our sixth year of touring it [in Europe]. It’s going to go to Budapest, [and] it’s played as far east as Poland…I’ve just licensed the first production in Seoul, Korea. It opens on July 21, in the Korean language.” Other upcoming shows include Mexico City (in negotiations); Lima, Peru (summer); and a 30th anniversary UK tour with a new creative team in spring 2003. “For the past 11 years, I’ve been doing Rocky Horror almost continuously.”
If you’d like to travel to places that have done the show, he recommends the National Theatre in Oslo, Norway. “It’s where the first-ever foreign production was done in 1974. Brian Thomson went over to design. It was directed by David Toguri; the costume designer was Sue Blane.” Malcolm visited the theater last year when they re-staged the production, and notes delightedly: “In the dress circle are the original Brian Thomson set models, and on the wall pictures of Sue Blane’s original costume designs.”
One of the more spectacular locations Malcolm has seen the show at was in Bad-Hersfeld, an open-air festival in Germany.
“It was done in a 12th century church which was destroyed in a great fire,” he reminisces. “Just the shell of the nave remains….they open the show with a wedding: 150 people on stage. A real wedding. They had a real car: the car went pootering off….The Transylvanians come in, all on motorcycles. We’re talking twenty motorcycles roaring down around the stage.”
One place the show is not coming soon is Vegas: “I’ve been out to Vegas six or seven times,” frets Malcolm. “…This last time I was going to go to Caesar’s…. we came so close. In the very last moment, someone said, ‘Do you know Caesar’s is being sold?’ My heart just sank.”
However, some good came of it. “In a sense, I think that’s what convinced me to go with the traditional theater [in] New York. Broadway was a bit of an accident.” Jordan Roth, the Broadway producer, and the RH Company had looked first at the Kit Kat Klub, an off-Broadway venue near Times Square. That didn’t work out, but the Circle in the Square did, and the rest is history! “I enjoyed the New York production; I thought it was very refreshing,” says Malcolm. “I love the screen in the beginning. I love where they go out into Times Square….I hope that it will get some Tony nominations, which it should do [Ed. note: it did!]….Everyone’s worked brilliantly hard, and they deserve some recognition.”
The Broadway production came right after the Rocky Horror Company finally released the amateur rights to the Rocky Horror Show in the US. “It was a long discussion…” says Malcolm. “Samuel French had been asking us for years. Richard finally said—it was finally after that last completely pointless trip to Vegas—[that] it might increase some interest in the stage version.” Apparently this may have worked, though Malcolm concedes, “With the Broadway, we have to hold back all sorts of amateur rights, how close we can come to big cities where they might tour: all kinds of stipulations. After we’ve released the amateur rights, we’ve almost had to rescind them.” He notes that he hasn’t seen any of the amateur productions: “Are they any good?”
His favorite production of the show so far “has to be the 25th anniversary tour, which we opened at Birmingham: the one with Jason Donovan, a terrifically fine Frank, very like Timmy was: the same sort of danger, charm.” What does Malcolm think is the best way to do Rocky? “I think it’s best with no budget at all; you have to use your imagination.”