“MOST people know me as that guy who was on ‘Hey Hey It’s Saturday’ for nearly 30 years, but along the way I’ve done a lot of stage shows,” says showbiz personality Daryl Somers.
He’ll be here soon playing the lead role of Max Bialystock in the musical theatre version of Mel Brooks’ side-splitting 1968 cult movie “The Producers” at Gungahlin College Theatre.
Bialystock is the pragmatic failed Broadway producer who, with a young accountant, hatches a scheme to evade the Internal Revenue Service by staging a flop musical about Hitler and Eva Braun.
It’s a chance for such a well-known TV personality to get inside a character not his own, so when Rachael Beck, of “Hey Dad” fame, called him to say she was making her directorial debut for Richard Block’s company Dramatic Productions and offered him the lead role, he jumped at the chance to get on the boards again.
“I was on stage at school playing drums and singing in the band,” he reminisces.
“The boys in the band, elected me to be their MC and I got the sense of speaking before a crowd.”
The cover band was called Pasquale and his Mexican Rhythm and re-branded as Somerset, got into the finals of “New Faces” on TV.
After playing roles in pantomime and getting a taste for the theatre, in 1971 he got a spot on “Hey Hey It’s Saturday”, eventually becoming not only host but executive producer, and stayed until 1999.
A legend in his own lifetime, Somers was a Gold Logie winner, was crowned King of Moomba and in 2018 had his portrait featured on a series of postage stamps.
In 1998 the late director George Fairfax and choreographer Graeme Murphy headhunted him to play Sancho Panza in the musical “Man of La Mancha”. He jumped at the chance to get into live theatre.
“I did that and really enjoyed it,” he says. “And then I got the chance to be in a concert version of a musical based on Lewis Carroll’s poem ‘The Hunting of the Snark’, written by Mike Batt.”
“Hey Hey It’s Saturday” lasted for 28 years but the stage was always beckoning. In 2003, he played Harry MacAfee in “Bye Bye Birdie” and, again, he says: “It was great fun”.
After what he calls “a bit of time between drinks,” but which included a stint on “Dancing with the Stars”, in 2014 he took the role of Nicely-Nicely Johnson in “Guys And Dolls”. That saw him taking centre stage for the number “Sit Down, You’re Rocking The Boat”. Modelling himself on the large NZ musician Ricky May, who had played Nicely Nicely in the late 1980s, he padded up.
“Ricky was 28 stone. I had padded up for Sancho Panza so I padded up for ‘Guys and Dolls’.”
His next role in 2015 was Max Renfield in David Atkins’ dance show, “Hot Shoe Shuffle,” for which he had to take tap dancing lessons.
“Because I had been a drummer, I could transfer the beat to the feet, and although it was a tough role, that was wonderful fun.”
Just after that, he reports, he got “sucked back into TV” with a short-lived Australian version of the British hypnotism game show, “You’re Back in the Room”.
Then last year came that call from Rachael Beck.
“I told her: ‘I’m so flattered to be asked to play Max Bialystock, how did you think of me?’ and she said: ‘I saw you as Nicely-Nicely and I thought you’d be perfect for Max’.
“I’m going do I have to pad up again?” he sighs. “Zero Mostel was padded up to play Max in the movie, so I’ll have to do it, too.”
He sees Max as “a crafty old bugger,” but not permanently grumpy the way Mostel played him. Now he’s in training again and enjoying it, saying: “It’s a very big role, I’m only off stage for 12 minutes”.
“It’s been like doing a musical by correspondence, and up and down like a yo-yo between Melbourne and Canberra, but now I’ll be spending the next few weeks in Canberra and I can’t wait to get really stuck into the script.”
“The Producers”, Gungahlin College Theatre, October 11-26. Book at stagecenta.com (10 per cent of all ticket sales goes to charity partners).