Words like legend, icon and living treasure are thrown around so easily. However, they fit one Australian entertainer and theatre personality like a pair of Frank’n’Furter’s fishnet stockings. Reg Livermore AO, born December 13, 1938, and 84 years young today.
As a kid, Reg Livermore began producing pantomimes in hired halls. His professional career commenced at 18 as an understudy for Barry Humphries and Gordon Chater at Sydney’s Phillip Street Theatre. In the sixties, he moved into film and television. A list of all his stage, film and television credits would entail delaying this article until his 85th birthday. But just a few of his sixties TV shows: Whiplash, Crackerjack and the groundbreaking satire The Mavis Bramston Show.
Reg Livermore also continued to work in theatre. Roles in Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar ensured his place in Australian stage history. But the best was still to come. In 1974, the first Australian production of The Rocky Horror Show starred Reg Livermore in the lead role of Dr Frank’n’Furter, according to many veteran theatregoers, the best Frank they ever saw.
Betty Blokk-Buster Follies
But the real tour-de-force came in 1975 with his own self-written three-hour, one-man show. Betty Blokk-Buster Follies took place in a circus ring. Reg described it as “a less-than-grand parade of tawdry variety acts: a makeshift fairground of life´s dinkum battlers, freaks and survivors existing in a kind of sideshow alley, but in this instance a backstage view of it, behind the scenes.”
David Marr reviewed Betty Blokk-Buster Follies in The Bulletin. One insanely talented gay Australian on another. He wrote that Reg’s show was camp and extravagant, his style of theatre, “gutsy, loud, brilliantly executed and completely without delusions.”
The Sydney Morning Herald originally refused to send a critic because “We don’t review drag shows.” But a few years later, the paper decried the short-sighted people who called the show a ‘wank’ and predicted a flop.
“His role has become a cult. Camp was never so high, and the four-letter words flowed smoothly as silk… Every night his audiences were in ecstasy, and there was not an empty seat.”
The soundtrack of Betty Blokk Buster Follies was a favourite of mine when I first worked in drag shows in the late seventies. In fact, I think Mr Livermore owes me a few gramophone needles. We wore them down listening to Betty as we made up and prepared to perform. Reg Livermore never just sang a song. He inhabited the lyrics and told a story with every word.
Other one-man shows followed. In 1983, the Australian Jewish Times hailed Firing Squad as a “reaffirmation of his towering talent both as a performer and creator of verbal and visual material.”
In his spare time, Reg Livermore tended his famous garden in the Blue Mountains, and painted, mounting occasional exhibitions of his work. With the advent of lifestyle television, he returned to the small screen, first on Burke’s Backyard and later on Our House. However, the theatre still beckoned, and over the years, he returned to the stage for leading roles in shows like The Producers and My Fair Lady. He was awarded a Helpmann Award for his portrayal of the Wizard in Wicked.
In 2021, Reg Livermore married his longtime partner Rob McMicking.
Today, he turns 84, one of the true greats of Australian entertainment, acknowledged for the visibility he brought to the LGBTIQA+ communities in dark times — ‘an instrument of change’.
“If I did change people’s thinking, changed any attitudes along the way, then I’m proud of it. What an audience is thinking in a theatre when the lights are out is difficult to say exactly, but if the artist does manage to influence another for the betterment of our common good, then the evening could never be described as a waste of time, or even a wank.”
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