This week pianist Bobby Crush makes his West End acting debut playing
the flamboyant American pianist Liberace, one of the biggest stars of the 1950s.
Known around the world for his outrageous costumes, collection of diamonds and mink
and shows dripping with high camp glamour and glitz, Liberace was notorious here in the UK
for his successful libel battle against the Daily Mirror, who correctly implied
that he was homosexual, at a time when being gay could result in a prison term.
The Mirror lost, and had to pay Liberace huge damages.
British pianist Bobby Crush who's playing the man who revelled in his name as "Mr Showmanship",
has been a family entertainer for some thirty years after winning Opportunity Knocks, the Pop Idol of its day,
at the age of 16.
Bobby Crush in his music room.
While never denying his own sexuality, Bobby himself has just come out
ahead of the publication of his autobiography which he's currently completing.
The play, by T.K.Light, Liberace's Suit focuses on the libel battle and OutUK's Mike Gray
asked Bobby Crush about the production and first whether it was an expose or more a
Bobby: The play is a dramatisation of the famous libel case that Liberace
took against the Daily Mirror in 1959. The writer, William Connor (writing under
the pen-name "Cassandra") wrote an article that suggested that Liberace was gay
(which, of course, he was!). Liberace, convinced that the article could effectively
finish his career, took out a libel suit against the paper, fought the case at the
Old Bailey and to everyone's astonishment, won! ... so I guess it is neither a
tribute, celebration or expose ... it's really a period piece, a reminder of a
time when people were less enlightened and gay men were forced to lie in order to
keep their liberty and livelihoods.
Liberace books and CDs are available from
OutUK: In rehearsal, have you discovered anything new about Liberace and
what made him such a successful performer?
Bobby: I've a renewed respect for his musicianship, having listened to a
lot of his recordings prior to rehearsals starting. I also think he was unique ...
way ahead of his time. His flamboyancy really influenced a whole slew of entertainers
from Elvis Presley to Elton John. His shows were incredibly spectacular and paved
the way for others to follow.
OutUK: You've only recently come out in public yourself...so you must have
tremendous sympathy for him...
Bobby: When Liberace first tasted success in the mid 50's, his audience was
almost entirely female. Because of the attitudes of the day, had it become known that
Liberace was gay it would have been catastrophic for his career. We weren't that further advanced
in the early 70's when I was starting out. When I won "Opportunity Knocks!" back in
1972, my career would probably not have survived the revelation that I was gay. We've
certainly come a long way and thank God for that but yes, learning more about Liberace
and researching the play, I'm aware of the parallels in our careers.
OutUK: You love performing yourself...and showbiz...so it
must be a marvellous role for you to play...
Bobby: It's great on a number of levels. I've done 4 musicals before now but this is my
first straight play. It's also the first time I've played a real-life character and I'm
aware that I have a big responsibility here to please the Liberace fans and to do him
justice. It's also a wonderful role as I get to wear some outrageous clothes ... you should see
my finale outfit! White tails covered in 14 kilos of Swarovski crystal beads ... not camp at all!
OutUK: Do you think Liberace was a much better performer and pianist than people think?
Bobby: I think he is very under-rated as a musician. These days, people only seem to remember
Liberace for the sequinned hotpants, the feathered creations and all the paraphenalia that went
with it. They forget that he was also a bloody good piano player!
OutUK: How are you enjoying the rehearsals...
Bobby: Very much so! I'm working with some very heavy-duty actors, all of whom are
vastly experienced. They've welcomed me (a variety turn!) into their world and have
all been incredibly supportive. I had a mini-panic towards the end of last week
when I convinced myself that I'd bitten off more than I could chew ... there was just
SO much text to learn and I didn't think it would all go in! I've had a much better week
this week, we're all off our scripts, the play's really beginning to take shape, the writer's
pleased with us and now we just can't wait to get into the theatre and run it a few times on the set!
OutUK: You've been working on your own autobiography...when is this likely to be out?
Bobby: I've had to put it on the back burner for the moment. My main priority just now
is the play and we all hope that it might transfer into a larger West End venue after
its initial run. I'd hoped to get the book out this year to coincide with my 50th birthday
but I think realistically, it's more likely to be available towards the end of next year.
Liberace's Suit is at the Jermyn Street
Theatre, 16b, Jermyn Street in London from May 25th to June 19th. Tickets are available
from the Box Office 0207 287 2875 and more information about the play is available at
the www.liberaces-suit.com or at
Bobby Crush's official website
own website www.bobbycrush.com.