Ritz at the Fab

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Fabulous, darling ! Richard O’Brien at the Fab Café

[Reprint from Crazed Imaginations #75]


The Fab Café in Manchester is a science fiction-themed café/bar, with signed photos of sci-fi luminaries, model spaceships on the walls, sci-fi films playing silently on TV monitors, and even a large Dalek. On October 22 [2001], the Café played host to Richard O’Brien, who provided an evening of standup, music, and one of the more amusing memorabilia auctions I’ve ever seen, with all proceeds going to the Wallness Children’s Charity for the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.

The Wizard of Oz was replaced with Rocky Horror on the TV monitors, and the café reverberated with the strains of the Roxy soundtrack (accompanied lustily by several members of the audience). The evening started with Richard noting he was happy to be appearing around Halloween: “I have a rather gothic sensibility.” Things quickly got serious as he explained his support for the Wallness Children’s Charity, which is raising money this year for the Hospital’s Bone Marrow Unit: “I have three children, who are all healthy, and if, God forbid, they got leukemia or any other disease I’d be devastated.” Richard also commented on the current political situation, deploring “the bombing of women and children” and the press’s hesitance to cover anti-war activities. “If you want to raise your voice to end the war; please do. This is not making things better, it’s making things worse.”

With serious events out of the way, Richard jumped right into news of the Rocky Horror stage sequel.

“Just today I put the full stop on Rocky Horror 2. It doesn’t mean there won’t be a few rewrites. It’s in the form where I’m going to put it in the post.” He then launched into a song from the sequel, ‘I’m Not Dead Yet,’ confirming that it would be sung by Frank. Further songs followed, including “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” “Little Girl, I’m So In Love With You,” and “Lonesome Me.” He also told a couple of jokes, with religious themes prevailing, and took questions from the audience.

What’s your favorite Rocky Horror moment?

“I think my favorite moment was the moment I breathed a sigh of relief after performing it for the first time, [knowing the audience liked it].”

What is the difference between writing the first one and [the sequel]?

“I’ve gained a lot of experience in the whole idea of play structure…I was such an adolescent when I wrote Rocky. I was in a state of arrested development….I needed [the sequel] to be good. I needed it to be clear but I didn’t want to be pompous.”

He described meeting [Monty Python alum] Terry Jones, whose comments he asked for on the sequel. “There’s a man who’s erudite, clever and witty.” O’Brien feels Jones’ experience having written a book of fairy tales is relevant to Rocky: “I think the fairy tale aspect of Rocky is very important. It’s Babes in the Wood. It’s the Fall…with Frank as the serpent. It’s the apple of carnality, the lost innocence and all that kind of shit.”

Jones liked the sequel, writing “What a whiz of a read.” Richard grinned widely. “It gave me confidence.”

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Richard prepares to serenade his fans. (Photo: Ruth Fink-Winter, Crazed Imaginations #75. )

The next question was about Shock Treatment. “If you ever do discover what Shock Treatment is about, please tell me,” he said, then launched into a fast version of the title song.

If you could do a creator’s cut of Rocky, what would you change?

“It’s a very, very relative question. It’s a very timely question,” said Richard. “I’d put back in Janet’s speech about ‘My lips were hungry…’”

And then he dropped the bomb on us, noting he was going to LA and “I can’t keep the secret any longer. Twentieth Century Fox wants to do a TV movie of Rocky Horror, with a budget of $8 million.” [Ed. note: most fans will remember that the budget for the original film was only $1 million!] Richard notes that for the script, “We will go back to the stage show.” (After his set was over, Richard was kind enough to come over, fix your dazed Crazed reporter with his laser blue eyes, and add, “I’d like to see an animated version myself, like the people who did [The Nightmare Before Christmas]. I figure they’d like to get younger American actors for the domestic market. I think they’re wrong.”)

As the audience was still reeling from this revelation, Richard started the charity auction. Several of the items were Rocky-related; many were not. If you’ve ever wanted to own a Frank Sinatra doll with Richard’s autograph on it, you’ve missed your chance. (“I’ve signed the front of it, God knows why,” said Richard. “Well, that’s not true, there was an incident in Las Vegas…let’s say, he’s a very big boy.”) Basically everything sported Richard’s autograph. There were, among other things, a Ray Park/Ewan McGregor double-sided Star Wars poster (signed by both Parks and O’Brien), a gorgeous British quad RHPS poster, Meph Smith posters, a Rocky Horror Scrapbook, two year-long free passes at the Odeon Cinema, a cookbook and signed menu from a local chef (“cooking is the new rock and roll, isn’t it?” quipped Richard), a Coronation Street script signed by one of the actors, a gorgeous Barbarella poster originally destined for another branch of the Fab Café, and several UK tour and Broadway RHS items. Several items were sold for a fixed price to whoever jumped up first, which kept the audience on its toes.

Richard noted approvingly of Tom Hewitt, who appears on two RHS CD posters (autographed by Richard and snapped up immediately for £10 each --a steal!), “He was one of the few people who didn’t even nod in the direction of Tim,” adding that of course Tim’s Frank was “almost definitive.”

Other items included signed copies of the RHPS and Dark City videos. Richard started with a higher initial bid for Dark City, noting “This is going to be worth a bit more…[unlike Rocky] I don’t think it’s going to be around forever.” (They went for £10 and £20, respectively.)

The auction continued, eventually raising more than £650 for the Wallness Children’s Charity, interspersed with more questions.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

“I know it sounds benign, but it is the children.”

What are you most embarrassed about?

“Well, we did do a little film called Shock Treatment!”

At a fan’s request, Richard sang Science Fiction, joined by members of the audience, while a younger version of Richard acted out the film’s dénouement on the video monitors.

Richard with adoring fans. (Photo: Ruth Fink-Winter, Crazed Imaginations #75)

Finally, Richard signed autographs for all and sundry after mixing a little at the bar. He noted that he’d signed autographs for most of two hours the night before at the Odeon, and that tonight for an autograph, “it’s 50 pence in the bucket [for the children’s charity].” As we left, the line snaked around the room…it had been an incredible night.