For Jason Donovan, Australian soap-star-turned-pop-star-turned-musical-theatre-actor, being cast in new musical Priscilla Queen Of The Desert The Musical is a “wonderful opportunity” that sees him become part of a story that he nearly tackled back in 1994.
Donovan revealed today that he was in the running to be cast in the Oscar-winning film upon which the musical is based, alongside the late INXS frontman Michael Hutchence and British actor Richard E Grant, but that line-up was not to be. “Michael was obviously in the throes of being the lead singer of INXS and there was a whole bunch of things going on at the time,” said Donovan at the launch of the musical at the Palace theatre earlier today. “But I think they got the casting just right when they found Terence [Stamp] and Guy [Pearce] and Hugo [Weaving].”
Some 14 years later, Donovan takes on Weaving’s role of Tick in the London stage production of the Australian musical hit. “This project and I go back a long way ironically, but [the film] was not meant to be, and this was,” says Donovan philosophically.
As it is, Donovan is excited about donning the heels and dress of drag queen Tick, who, along with his performing pals Bernadette and Adam, goes on a soul-searching journey into the Australian outback on a tour bus nicknamed Priscilla.
Commenting on the colourful musical, which will open at the Palace next March, Donovan said: “I think maybe this might prove to be the feelgood hit for the year that is the antidote to the credit crunch. We all need to be entertained. Theatres aren’t just going to disappear because times are tough. Life goes on.”
The actor, who has previously appeared in the West End in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Sweeney Todd, also said he was pleased to have the chance to originate a role on the West End stage, rather than stepping into another actor’s shoes.
Being cast in Priscilla tops a successful couple of years for Donovan. Since appearing in ITV reality show I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here in 2006, he has made various one-off appearances on television and stage, appeared in ITV soap Echo Beach and released an autobiography. His new album comes out later this year. “It’s good being Jason Donovan, this year!” he said. “It’s been a good couple of years. I think I got myself together a lot more. I’m 40 this year, there’s a lot of positive things happening in my life. I think when you’ve lasted 20 years or more in the business people start to give you a bit of respect.” He also acknowledged the fanbase that his early success as actor in Australian soap Neighbours and as a pop star has given him: “Culture has a cycle as well. You’ve got a whole bunch of audiences who… maybe I was the soundtrack to their lives you know, they want a little bit of that again. I’m very lucky. I absolutely adore my job, I am challenged by it, it takes my heart rate up into incredible places, it stresses me out, but I wouldn’t swap it for a thing.”
In playing Tick in the stage musical, Donovan will star alongside Tony Sheldon, who originated the role of Bernadette in the Sydney production in 2006, and British actor Oliver Thornton, who plays Adam.
Sheldon, who is a highly experienced actor on the Australian stage, has never worked outside of his native country, and said he was “absolutely overwhelmed” to be bringing Bernadette to the West End. “I never really thought I’d be given the opportunity, none of us thought we’d be allowed to come overseas with the show,” he said.
Before he does, he will spend a few more months in the re-opened Sydney production this autumn, continuing his two-year run in the show.
It seems the actor can’t get enough of Bernadette. “I really just love her – she’s a very, very warm and loving lady, so I don’t have any problem playing her or going on that trip every night,” he commented.
The show features a wardrobe of eclectic and outlandish costumes, some of which were on display at the launch today. They may look impressive, but they are not so easy to wear, said Sheldon. “The hard thing is the costumes, it’s physically an extremely stressful show to do,” he said. “The shoes… you have so many back problems. So you spend a lot of time stretching and it takes me an hour and a half before every performance to prepare, so I spend most of my life in the dressing room.”
Daniel Scott, who originated the role of Adam in the Sydney production, agrees. The one tip he has for his British counterpart, Thornton, is “look after your knees. We’re boys, we don’t learn how to dress and walk around in high heels. It’s not something that we do. Some of my shoes are like, that high, a pencil stiletto. So that’s the one thing, protect your knees.”
Scott, who was on hand at the launch but will not be part of the British production, explained quite how “unusual” the musical is. “We were tech-ing in the show in Sydney, [I’m] in the company management office talking about something very work related, business, business, business, and then somebody walks in in a black leather codpiece, nothing else,” he laughed. “It gets to a point where you don’t really bat an eyelid. It’s such a surreal experience to be part of it – it’s not Les Mis.”
Though he won’t be taking to the London stage, Scott said he was delighted to be a part of a show that has had such success in Australia and elsewhere. “From an Australian’s point of view it is very rare that we get to create something and it actually gets an audience! New Australian work doesn’t really get kick started a lot in Australia, it’s something that very rarely happens, so from that point of view to be part of something like this is really cool.”
While Scott heads back to Australia to play Adam in Sydney, he is happy to pass on the mantle to Thornton, who, Scott is certain, “is going to have as much fun with it as I have.”
While further casting is yet to be announced, if Donovan gets his way, there may be a family member in the show. The character of Tick has a seven-year-old son, which, said Donovan, is perfect casting as his son is the same age. “I might get my son up to play my son!” he joked. “He might be keen!”
Tickets are now on sale for Priscilla Queen Of The Desert The Musical, which opens at the Palace on 23 March 2009 after previews from 10 March.