Produced and directed by Jim Sharman, the original London production of the musical premiered at the Royal Court Theatre (Upstairs) on 19 June 1973 (after two previews on 16 and 18 June 1973) before moving to several other locations in London and closing on 13 September 1980, running for a total of 2,960 performances and winning the 1973 Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Musical. Its 1974 debut in the US in Los Angeles had a successful nine-month run, but its 1975 Broadway debut at the Belasco Theatre lasted only three previews and forty-five showings, despite earning one Tony nomination and three Drama Desk nominations. Various international productions have since spanned across six continents as well as West End and Broadway revivals and eight UK tours. Actor Tim Curry, who originated the role of Dr. Frank N. Furter in the original London production, became particularly associated with the musical.
The musical was adapted into the 1975 film The Rocky Horror Picture Show, starring O'Brien as Riff Raff, with Curry also reprising his role; the film has the longest-running release in film history. In 2016, it was adapted into the television film The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do the Time Warp Again. The musical was ranked eighth in a BBC Radio 2 listener poll of the "Nation's Number One Essential Musicals".
As an out-of-work actor in London in the early 1970s, Richard O'Brien wrote The Rocky Horror Show to keep himself busy on winter evenings. Since his youth, he 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 films, 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 ended up being. He conceived and wrote the play set against the backdrop of the glam era that had manifested itself throughout British popular culture in the early 1970s; he has stated "glam rock allowed me to be myself more", allowing his concept to come into being.
O'Brien took a small amount of his unfinished Rocky Horror to Australian director Jim Sharman, who decided he wanted to direct it at the small experimental space Upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, Chelsea, London, which was used as a project space for new work. Sharman had received considerable local acclaim as the director of the original Australian productions of Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar. He went to London to direct the first British stage production of Superstar, during which he met O'Brien, who had played King Herod for just one performance. Sharman brought fellow Australians Nell Campbell and long-time scenic designer partner Brian Thomson into the production.
Star Tim Curry recalled his first encounter with the script: