Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, Tue 14 Jun
It was an absolute privilege to have Reg Livermore introduce the film version of his history-making smash hit stage show, Betty Blokk Buster Follies, at Dunstan Playhouse. Reg told how, after his famous run as Frank N Furter in the original Australian production of The Rocky Horror Show, producer Eric Dare offered to fund a one-man show for him. It was an unheard of format at the time. Reg said that he couldn’t really take the idea seriously but eventually agreed to go along with it. They set a date to open three months hence (yikes!) and proceeded to write, rehearse and produce Betty Blokk Buster Follies, which opened at the Balmain Bijou Theatre in Sydney, in April 1975.
The show was unlike anything seen before, or since really, and featured 20 songs from Livermore, with the terrific Baxter Funt Band and, on a few of the songs, backing singers The Reginas. The Sydney media boycotted Betty Blokk Buster, with the Sydney Morning Herald refusing to send a critic to the show saying “We don’t review drag shows”. Despite the lack of press support, the stage show was a huge success with eight months in Sydney then tours to Canberra, Perth, Adelaide Festival (where it extended to a six-week season!) and closing in Melbourne in July 1976; a truly remarkable achievement in any time.
The film of the show is now 40 years old and it took a while to adjust to the sound track quality. Although they did a great job with what they had at the time, our current sound technology is highly produced and sophisticated. Reg Livermore’s voice is often quite strident but it did not take long to appreciate the absolute genius, irreverent humour and outrageous content of the show, both musically and in the uniqueness of his characterisations.
Reg Livermore is, undoubtedly, one of the most extraordinary live performers Australia has ever produced. This film, of a stage show – something that is always difficult to do well due to the differences in lighting and sound between stage and screen – transported us into the actual show and gave us better views of this amazing performer than we would have had in the actual theatre. He is mesmerising, hilarious, courageous and unforgettable. Many of his songs and character pieces were so marvellous, they inspired applause from the film-viewing audience, and it was so rousing and truly timeless that the whole theatre applauded at the end of the film.
The musical and characterisation highlights were many and all had their own marvellous costumes. Songs included Money, Hello In There, Captain Jack, Take A Walk On The Wild Side, What Makes A Man A Man, Long Tall Glasses, Is That All There Is, Ticking and Celluloid Heroes. The album from the show went Gold and then Platinum. My favourite characters were Vaseline Amyl Nitrate, the lead dancer with the Australian Rules Ballet Co. (who actually danced on pointe!) and the savage animal trainer who made a spectacular entrance on trapeze.
Setting a benchmark in Australian performance, Reg Livermore was also a pioneer in bringing to mainstream Australia the humanity of gayness in all its flamboyant, touching, irreverent and outrageous honesty. Thank you Reg.
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