It is 35 years since The Commitments first burst from the pages of Roddy Doyle’s best-selling novel. The world’s hardest working and most explosive soul band are set to return in an all-new stage production, playing Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre this May. This smash-hit musical will star Coronation Street legend Nigel Pivaro. He will be swapping the cobbles for the stage and performing the role of ‘Da’ in this all-new production.
Returning to live theatre for the first time in nearly 20 years, Nigel Pivaro admits: “There’s a slight hint of apprehension.” But the Coronation Street legend is thrilled to be starring in the current UK and Ireland tour of Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments, enthusing: “What’s not to love about it? It’s such an iconic show and I’ve always loved the story and the music. It means I get to spend nine months going up and down the country, and I’ll get to stretch my acting muscles again on stage.” He laughs. “In a way, it’s heralding the fact that I’m back in the business.”
Having worked mainly as a journalist for the past 15 years, the man who came to fame as Terry Duckworth in the beloved soap hasn’t been on stage since 2003, when he toured with fellow former EastEnders star John Altman in Bouncers.
Nigel’s journey back to the stage in The Commitments actually started in 2020. “When it came along it felt like a golden opportunity, but then of course it was postponed because of Covid, then last year it was postponed again. But here we are now at the starting point, tantalisingly close, and I’m really excited about it.”
In the show Pivaro plays Da, the father of aspiring Irish music manager Jimmy Rabitte. Based on Doyle’s 1987 bestselling novel and Alan Parker’s hugely popular 1991 film adaptation, it revolves around working-class Jimmy’s bid to transform a bunch of amateur musicians into Dublin’s finest-ever soul band, much to his father’s dismay.
“Da provides the dramatic tension,” Nigel says of his character. “There’s lots of friction between Jimmy and the members of the band, but the constant tension in the narrative is between him and his Da. The latter thinks his music is a load of rubbish because it’s not Elvis, basically. As far as he’s concerned, if it’s not Elvis then it’s no good.” Without giving spoilers, the actor adds: “Let’s say he eventually becomes open to persuasion.”
The show is packed with great tunes like Try A Little Tenderness, In The Midnight Hour, I Heard It Through The Grapevine and Mustang Sally. Much of the singing is left to the younger cast members. But Nigel, 62, says: “I get to sing a few bars of Elvis rather than the old Motown and Stax classics.” He laughs again. “That’s probably just as well really.”
There’s some common ground between him and Da. “You always find something in any character that you can relate to. He’s a bit of a cynic and as I get older, I get more cynical too. I can seriously relate to that. At this age you’ve kind of seen it all, which is where the cynicism comes from.”
The Manchester-born actor studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, made his stage debut in Short Of Mutiny in 1983 and that same year landed the role of bad boy Terry Duckworth in Coronation Street. He left the soap five years later but returned on a regular basis until 2012, with Terry causing all sorts of headaches for his parents Jack and Vera (Bill Tarmey and Liz Dawn).
Nigel has many fond memories of his time on the show. “It was so much fun behind the scenes, especially with Bill and Liz, Michael Le Vell, who plays Kevin Webster, and Brian Mosley, who played Alf Roberts. He was so funny off set. He’d always try and make you corpse when you were waiting to go on. He’d stuff a grape up his nose and daft stuff like that. He was always one for practical jokes and he was nothing like his stuck-in-the-mud character.”
Over the years Pivaro has also done a lot of stage work and cites ground-breaking drama Just Frank, about an AIDS sufferer, at the Theatre Royal Stratford East as a personal favourite. He’s also been in Funny Peculiar, A View from the Bridge and An Evening With Gary Lineker, to name just a few of his stage credits.
Another theatrical highlight was winning the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 1st award for No Further Cause For Concern, of which he says. “That’s probably the thing I’m most proud of. I found the play myself, put on a reading at Stratford, got the money together to put it on in Wales, Edinburgh and then London, and it was so well received.”
His decision to embark on a second career as a journalist at age 39 might have surprised his fans. “But I’d always been intrigued by journalism and good journalists, and I’ve always been interested in history and politics.” After finishing a postgraduate course, he worked for regional papers and now freelances for national publications as well as making documentaries for the BBC.
A return to acting wasn’t on the cards but in 2019 Nigel bumped into writer Jim Cartwright, who he’d worked with when he toured in The Rise and Fall Of Little Voice in 2000. Cartwright asked him: “When are going to get back into acting? We miss you.” That whetted Nigel’s appetite. He secured representation, scored some auditions, and did plays on BBC Radio 4, including The Corrupted opposite Toby Jones.
“I thoroughly enjoyed it,” he says of doing radio work, “and it was a great reintroduction into acting. There was no pressure because it wasn’t in front of the camera or a live audience. From there I did a few adverts and a lot of voiceovers. I really started to believe in myself again as an actor.”
Nigel is now ready to step back on stage in The Commitments, which is an all-new production of a show that originally opened in the West End in 2013 before embarking on a countrywide tour three years later. The West End production at the Palace Theatre garnered such rave reviews as “Wonderfully funny and touching” from The Daily Telegraph and “A sweet-soul, solid-gold, five-star blast” from The Sunday Times.
The actor is modest about starring in the new tour, saying: “The show, the story and the music are the real stars. And the music is so beloved by people who grew up with it and younger people who have been introduced to it over the years. The songs are a major factor in its success, along with the skill in which the music and the story are woven together without it ever being ‘Oh, here’s an excuse to sing another great song’.”
Where possible, he’ll be driving himself to and from the tour venues, but he won’t be relying on GPS. “It’s anathema to me,” he explains. “I’d rather look at a map and plan my journey that way. And I do love an interesting drive. If I spot something I’ll write it on the map, like ‘Nice 13th century pub here’ or ‘Good Cafe there’. It makes touring even more appealing.”
As for what else he’s looking forward to about being back on the road for the first time in nearly two decades, Pivaro says: “Theatres full of happy punters who are having a rollicking night out and really getting into the show, letting themselves go with the music, the story and the joy of it. and being able to forget, at least for a couple of hours, what we’ve all been through over the past two and a half years and all the problems that are still around. I’m sure they’ll go away feeling uplifted.”
- The Commitments plays Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre from May 22 – 27 2023. Visit Wales Millennium Centre’s website for ticket availability.