The show, played abandoned cinemas, in London and Australia, only the USA didn't run the show as it was intended. Lou Adler made The Roxy look like an old cinema, except with tables and bar service.
When it went to Broadway, Brian Thomson, wanted it to play an old cinema in the Soho region, but the offer to use The Belasco, cheap, swayed O'Brien. It, of course, was a disaster.
You should, arrive at a disused movie house, in a terrible state of disrepair.
The auditorium is completely covered with dark blue canvas, with ACME Demolition stencilled on it. The curtains are open, exposing the screen, which has an "apology for the inconvenience" message projected on it. The side walls have scaffolding running from the stage to the back. The centre aisle has a ramp running from one of the cinema's doors, onto the stage. There is an old coke fridge on one side of the scaffolding, and the band on the other. The room is dimly lit, and ushers in masks (actually cast members) harass the patrons, sitting and staring till they yelp. There are body parts amongst the rubble and threadbare carpet.
The ushers eventually stroll onto the stage, in front of the screen, turn and yell "Glad, you could come tonight". The lights go out, and a spotlight hits a lone usherette, holding a candy tray, she sings, Science Fiction. You realise you are watching the last gasp of a cinema in decline. The usherette, is going to show her fantasy, from years of movies, using only the cinema, the screen, the scaffolding, and even Eddie coming from the fridge. Frank made his entrance, with a loud bang, as the back door flung open, and he walked up the catwalk onto the stage. The usherette becomes the maid in her own story, but returns to an usherette for the close.
Without the setting, it becomes about the storyline, which is silliness. The decaying movie house, gave it a reason.
The dialogue is a mix of British horror studios Hammer films and the sexy comedy film series, "Carry On" (O'Brien had been in a Carry On). Frank is based on a vaudeville drag act, that Jim Sharman saw, as a kid. The lingerie costumes came from Lyndsey Kemp's The Maids, just turned around, so they lace up the front. The interpretation of "a typical American couple", wasn't realistic, but how Britain and Australia perceived them, so Brad and Janet's costumes were changed for The Roxy, to be believeable to Americans.
Double Features, were the staple of British and Australian cinemas, till the end of the 70s, and by 1973, often included a Hammer horror, or a Carry On, or both. The garish colours, overt sexuality, and "naughtiness" that was cinema's last attempt to draw crowds, was the basis of the show. The death of the double feature, the movie house, and the age of innocence. In 1974, it made sense, and the references were immediate to British and Australian audiences.
America saw it without it's setting, and then the film, which also removes the framework, making it a funny, but confusing piece.
Yeah, I am aware of how the show should be done and what its original intention/setting was. I once saw a small production a few years ago in Chicago that set the theatre up the way you describe, including the "Sorry For the Inconvinence" signs. THe Usherette of the theatre sang the song and it was a brilliant set up. It really seemd the director understood the material. However, Once science fiction was over the production went to shit. They pretty much directly copied the film after that. So disappointing.