They call him Wonderful: Reg Livermore on all things WICKED

Reg Livermore is joining the cast of WICKED for its return Melbourne and Sydney seasons in 2014 and Erin James caught up with the legend of stage and screen for a chat about all things green…

Reg Livermore
Reg Livermore joins the cast of WICKED

The Dragon Clock struck 8:30 (am!) and I find myself on the line with Reg Livermore – veteran of Australian theatre, television and cabaret. He is charming, enthusiastic and surprisingly bubbly, (despite commencing media interviews at 6:30 this morning!) and we chat about his upcoming theatrical engagement in the blockbuster musical WICKED.

Livermore, who has been working in the Australian entertainment industry for nearly 6 decades, will step into the role of the Wizard when the show returns to the magical Regent Theatre in May, his first major musical production since appearing as Henry Higgins in Opera Australia’s My Fair Lady back in 2008.

“After My Fair Lady I did a show I wrote for Nancye Hayes and myself called Turns and we did a rather large tour around regional areas of Australia which was pretty disappointing –  and I should have blamed the economy but I blamed myself of course – so I haven’t done anything for two and a half years”, he said with a sigh.

“I thought I’d probably been put up on the shelf. So this is really a fantastic thing to happen for me – really fantastic.”

After receiving the call just over a fortnight ago, Livermore says his WICKED experience has been a whirlwind so far. The path from offer, to acceptance, to costume fitting took all of three days and now he is well on his way to becoming Australia’s next wonderful Wizard of Oz.

“I received a call one day and the following day I said “all right, I’ll do it” and then I was down in Melbourne having a costume fitting the day after that – so it’s really go go go!” he said.

“I had a rehearsal on Monday with the musical director Kellie Dickerson and Karen Johnson-Mortimer who is the Australian director. They took me through the songs and the script so as to give me some idea so I can go away and brush up on what I learned on Monday and then have another one next week.”

The 34 strong Australian cast of WICKED are currently in Manila, The Philippines as part of their Australasian 10th Anniversary tour and Livermore won’t join them for rehearsals until closer to the show’s opening in Melbourne. However, with several months of preparation time available to him, Reg knows he’ll be ready when he steps onto the floor with the existing cast.

“By then I expect I will know everything backwards… and frontwards”, he laughed.

Throughout his extensive career Livermore has never been afforded the opportunity to work at the Regent Theatre, so is proudly adding this theatre to his enviable (and sizeable) – “each theatre you play is another notch on the belt” he laughs. Also new to him will be each and every cast member in the current production and he is very keen to get to know his new ‘family’.

“I’ve met Maggie Kirkpatrick, obviously, during our careers but we’ve never worked together. And all of the others – I don’t know any of them – so that’s a nice part of the journey isn’t it? I not only have to learn my lines, but I have to learn all their names!”

[pull_left]When I was younger it was essential, if you wanted to stay working in the theatre then you had to be able to turn your hand to anything[/pull_left]

Having seen the show when it premiered in Sydney back in 2009, Livermore admits his recollection of the entirety of the production as a whole is “kind of hazy” but he is busily trying to get in to all things WICKED. The role of the Wizard, portrayed in Australia by the late Rob Guest and Bert Newtown during WICKED’s original season is what Livermore describes as an open book, and he is thrilled to be brining his own unique interpretation to the wonderful cameo

“It’s open to interpretation you know”, he explained. “Because he’s such a cameo, the personality of the person cast is very important – what he brings to it. So I’m not intimidated by those who have been before me, and I will do my best”, he said.

We chat about the production and about his enchanting soft-shoe style number ‘Wonderful’ in Act 2 and Livermore offers his thoughts on the piece.

“It’s more than just a song – it’s a scene. He does all sorts of things to win over Elphaba – trying to convince her that he’s a good man at heart and that he’s not going to do any harm – and she’s very wary of him, probably with good reason.

He does describe himself in that song – ‘just one of your dime-a-dozen mediocrities’. He doesn’t think too much of himself, but he’s been exceptionally lucky. The snake oil trader gets on a balloon – as you do … especially in Melbourne – and lands in Oz. And because the people there have nothing to believe in or noone to believe in, they decide that he is the man, and he quite likes the situation.
So he’s not straight up and down there’s no doubt about that. He uses people and he needs to use the witches so he can get more powers so he can do the sorts of things he wants to do

[pull_right]Now, really I’d shy off doing a straight play anyway – they sit around and talk too much![/pull_right]But on the other hand he’s quite shrewd by knowing you shouldn’t take anything at face value. As he says in the song ‘the truth’s got nothing to do with fact or reason, the truth is only what everyone believes in’. And I think that’s quite relevant, don’t you? Today, as much as it was when the show opened 10 years ago. Especially today – I think it will be forever,” he said.

Livermore is well known throughout Australia in many different theatrical and artistic mediums – from straight theatre to television, cabaret to music theatre – he has forged a career in being versatile and open to where opportunities took him. Being able to function on all sorts of levels, he believes, is the reason his career has lasted nearly 60 years.

“When I was younger it was essential, if you wanted to stay working in the theatre then you had to be able to turn your hand to anything. I had to admit that I wasn’t trained in lots of areas and i’m no ‘triple threat’ – there seem to be thousands of those at the moment! – but I knew that if i wanted to keep working in Australia… and I did … that if was asked to sing and dance, well then I would sing and dance. And if I was asked to do a straight play, then I would do that! So I think that for the purposes of my career and my enjoyment and my satisfaction, to be able to do all of those things, it has got me to where I could get to.”

From King Herrod in Jesus Christ Superstar or Frank ‘n’ Furter in Rocky Horror to working as an actor at the Union Theatre (now MTC). From compering the ABC children’s show Crackerjack in the 1960s or hosting his own Saturday night variety TV show to creating and starring in the Betty Blok Buster Follies in the 1970s. From Max Bialystock in The Producers and Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady to The Wizard in WICKED – Reg Livermore has sunk his teeth into more genres and more roles than many actors can only dream of. But it is fitting, at least in this case, that his concluding thought in our chat are thus:

“But I suppose that musical theatre is what I enjoy most” he mused. “I guess way back in my childhood, the fact that I used to go to the pantomimes and I did see Broadway musicals when they came to Australia, they did affect my attitude towards things.

And now, really I’d shy off doing a straight play anyway – they sit around and talk too much!”


Erin James

Erin James is's former Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

Erin James

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