It was only days before the opening night of The Producers in Melbourne early last year, and not all was well for Reg Livermore.
The theatrical legend, whose half-century career on the stage has made him an Australian entertainment icon, was feeling stymied in his central role of Max Bialystock in the hit show.
Up to that point, the unique talents of Livermore had been tightly directed by the creative team who were attempting to replicate the Nathan Lane-style performance of the Broadway production.
As a result, Livermore felt stifled, and with opening night a matter of days away, a sense of concern had set in.
Nothing very much was happening as they wanted the Broadway show and a blueprint, he recalls, while sipping a coffee in a caf?ear the Lyric Theatre, where The Producers opens this week.
I was being cooperative, but I was offering nothing of the -˜Reg Factor’, he says.
When Mel Brooks saw the show in previews, he took me aside and said, -˜You are too straight!’ laughs Livermore. I mean, you can take that any way you want, but he then saved me and said, -˜Fly and be free.’
Even though that was four days before opening night, I was still able to invent things and, I think, pass muster.
The -˜Reg Factor’, as he calls it, did indeed kick in and the reviews from the Melbourne and Brisbane seasons of The Producers were full of praise for Livermore and the entire Australian production.
The Producers, which co-stars Tom Burlinson, Bert Newton and Tony Sheldon, tells the tale of a couple of theatrical losers who hatch an ingenious plan to make a fortune by staging the biggest flop in Broadway history, only to have their ruse backfire when the show becomes a hit.
While the show has proven a hit during its national tour, Livermore admits he has some apprehensions about bringing the show into Sydney.
It has been almost 20 years since the star of such hits as Barnum, Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Rocky Horror Show and The Betty Blokk-Buster Follies opened in a full-scale musical in his home town, and he confesses he is both excited and daunted by the prospect.
But Livermore also laughs as he says The Producers and Sydney should prove to be a good match for each other.
I am sure this show will appeal to Sydney as this is a scallywag city. She’s a whore and a larrikin, so this show will fit in here, he laughs.
Melbourne loved it, but I have a feeling Sydney will whoop it up as it is so irreverent and politically incorrect. I think the people here will give us what we need, and I am so looking forward to running the show here.
The Producers is the biggest show Livermore has undertaken in decades.
Aside from his nine-year gig as a presenter on the lifestyle TV show Our House, Livermore has worked on stage with the Australian Opera, as well as in smaller musicals and one-man shows in both Sydney and the Blue Mountains (his home is in Katoomba).
Aside from The Producers, Livermore’s biggest creative venture in recent years has been his autobiography, Chapters And Chances, in which he presents his favourite pictures and anecdotes from his high-voltage career.
Conceived with his partner, Rob McMicking, Chapters And Chances presents the glory days of Livermore’s career, from his earliest days of pantomimes in his local town hall, to his place as a legend of the Australian stage, including his groundbreaking one-man triumphs of the 1970s with shows such as The Betty Blokk-Buster Follies, Wonder Woman and Sacred Cow.
In these shows, Livermore unleashed a range of spectacular characters, including Betty, Joan of Arc, Beryl and the infamous Vaseline Amalnitrate.
I look back and think that was bold at the time, but I really was not trying to make any statement at all. It really was more about this queen who was given $50,000 to put on a show, he laughs.
But it just happened to coincide with this emergence of people coming out and there I was on stage, but being political was the last thing that occurred to me. Of course, if you are watching a gay man up there doing something like that, then it is a political statement.
Writing the book was not difficult and I did not sit down and cry or howl, but I was glad to get it all out. You live your life and that can be hard enough as it is, so it was an effort to pursue something like this. But I am glad I did it.
Livermore is now working on another book, which will chronicle in more detail his life away from the theatre.
At the moment it is called Omissions -“ not emissions, although it might seem like one big giant wanky wet dream in the end, he laughs.
It will be about the things I did not have space for the first time.
For the time being, the eight shows a week of The Producers will be keeping Livermore busy for its Sydney season, which is expected to run well into next year.
But on his days away from the theatre, he smiles as he says he will be leaving his city apartment and heading west to his home in the Blue Mountains.
I am so near home, I can smell it, sniff it and sense it -“ that is very comforting, he says with a smile.
That is my peace and my reality, although what I am doing on stage is also reality as it is my job, but with some make believe. But home is just up the road and this feels like a very good time to be home.
The Producers premieres Thursday 26 May at the Lyric Theatre, Star City. Bookings 9266 4886.