It seems as though there has barely been a year during the last half century that Reg Livermore has not been on stage. From Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar back in the 1970s to his own stage shows such as Betty Blokk Buster Follies in 1975 and then through Rocky Horror and Barnum, it seems like he’s done it all – and entertained us along the way.
Now Livermore is surprising audiences again with a scene-stealing turn as Alfred Doolittle in the Julie Andrews’ directed production of My Fair Lady, now showing in Melbourne at the Regent Theatre and returning to Sydney to the Capitol Theatre from August 24, 2017.
Julie Andrews formerly played Eliza Doolittle on Broadway and now takes on the popular production as the director
Alfred is the comic highlight of the show, the cockney father of Eliza who always seems to be spilling out of a pub – when he’s not sponging on his daughter.
“Really for an actor it's a wonderful late career gift, to be playing a role like that,” Livermore reflects. “And to have the freedom that I had to do the things that I wanted to do – not that I have any preconceptions about it particularly; I just wanted to please Julie Andrews at the time.”
“It's a great role and I love it, and I'm just so happy that it's turned out to be such a personal success for me. I'm thrilled about the show of course, but to actually have the sort of applause and appreciation I'm getting for doing that role, it's wonderful. Wonderful.”
And indeed, the role of Alfred is a pretty energetic one. There’s a fabulous dance number – 'Get Me to the Church on Time' where Livermore, now 78, displays an impressive ability to kick up his heels.
“I just throw myself into it I have to say,” he says. “I mean I don't do any training as such, and I'm getting a bit fatter and all that sort of stuff. But, look I've been fortunate in that there's just been a fire in my belly all along my career. An energy source that I can tap so easily.
Reg Livermore kicks up his heels for the dance number, 'Get Me to the Church on Time'
“It would be criminal of me to just stand at the side of the stage, not doing anything. And I wouldn't be able to. So I just throw myself into it. I mean it's slightly absurd, we know that. But it's just something that comes naturally to me. I'm not saying it doesn't knock me about a bit, I mean I'm probably going further than I've ever dared think I would in this. But it's just the way the numbers turned out, the songs and the choreography and what they wanted us to do and it just seems, well, hell for leather.
With more than 60 years in musical theatre, Reg Livermore is a stalwart of the stage
“And when you think that Alfred only comes on stage when he's coming out of a pub, then it's reason to go off the rails a bit I suppose.”
However, it is also a gruelling schedule – eight shows a week, including two days that have matinee performances.
“They're the days I call inhuman,” he says. “When you do a show and you turn around two hours later and you do it again; a very real sense of déjà vu. However, we have to keep it fresh for the people who weren't there for the first show.”
My Fair Lady has been a huge hit in Australia. It premiered at the Sydney Opera House last year and has been almost a complete sellout, touring to Brisbane and Melbourne and returning to Sydney to finish. Indeed, according to Livermore, My Fair Lady has sold more tickets at the Opera House than anything in its history.
“I used to mingle – not purposely – when you'd leave to go and catch a train or whatever, and I'd be walking in amongst the audience as they were leaving. The older people would have quite a history of going to the theatre in their lives, and they would just say ‘Look it is the best thing I've ever seen’. And you think ‘Oh, that's wonderful’; that's the way to leave the theatre.”
My Fair Lady is currently playing at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre and will open in Sydney on August 27, 2017. Tickets at myfairladymusical.com.au.
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Image credit: Jeff Busby, Brian Geach.