Jason Donovan: Aussie Rules
Jason Donovan talks about raising his family in south west London and coming to Wimbledon with hit musical Priscilla
From Neighbours star to teen heartthrob, 90s chart topper, rebel without a cause, and acclaimed West End performer, Jason Donovan has been there, done that and seen it all.
His adopted national treasure status shows no sign of abating any time soon either – last year Jason joined Kylie Minogue on stage to sing their 1988 duet Especially For You in front of thousands of misty eyed fans in Hyde Park and this year he returned to tread the boards in Jason and his Technicolour Dreamcoat, this time playing Pharaoh alongside Sheridan Smith.
This autumn, Jason will undertake his first ever producer role on the spangling new production of the hit musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, which comes to New Wimbledon Theatre in October.
Having performed in the cast of the original West End hit show, the decision to join the new production was a simple one.
“Having spent years performing and always harbouring the desire to become more involved in the creative process, I am delighted to be joining [the show]. You know, I think the most important thing is to have a project that you believe in. Priscilla and I have a long history going back so many years. It’s a great story first and foremost and it’s a very modern musical with some great songs. This show has a wonderful heart and I think it’s a really modern tale,” Jason explains.
Based on the Oscar-winning film, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is the glittering tale of three drag performers who hop aboard a battered old bus bound for Alice Springs to put on the show of a lifetime. Their epic journey is a heart-warming story of selfdiscovery, diversity, acceptance and glitter!
At a time when many are fighting for more acceptance and the trans and LGBTQ communities are championed, does the show resonate even more so with audiences? “You’re right suggesting that in this era of social media and with the move towards making sure everyone has a voice in society I think there’s a whole generational shift that this show represents,” says Jason.
“Priscilla is such a wonderful Australian story about diversity. I think there is a desire now to go beyond musicals of just Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cameron Mackintosh and Disney – and don’t get me wrong these are wonderful tales – but [Priscilla] is a little bit confronting because life can be confronting. Life is not always a Disney experience.”
So what can audiences expect from the show? “Well a great night out! Fantastic songs, some incredible costumes and a celebration of life – I think that’s the crux of the show,” Jason enthuses.
Claiming to have more glitter and feathers than ever before, the musical is set to wow audiences with its festival of colour and dance floor classics including It’s Raining Men, I Will Survive, I Love The Nightlife, Finally and many more.
Along with Jason in the producer chair, the iconic hit musical stars Strictly Come Dancing winner Joe McFadden, as Tick/Mitzi. “Joe’s a fantastic actor,” says Jason. “And the rest of the cast is superb, too.”
The UK tour hits Wimbledon from 7 October to 12 October – a familiar spot for the firsttime producer. “I’ve done many shows at the New Wimbledon Theatre and I love this part of the world,” he adds.
Jason now lives in west London with his family, his children go to school in Barnes and Jason feels very much ensconced in London life. “London has been very good to me. My kids have grown up here and love it here, they go to school around the corner in Barnes, so yeah, I feel like a bit of a Londoner. I’m still very much Australian, that’s for sure, but I’ve certainly been adopted,” he says.
“My dad was actually born in London, and I’ve been here since 1990 so I do feel very much part of the fabric of this country.”
Arriving in London to legions of fans as a fresh-faced teen icon, Jason had to learn, often the hard way, of the highs and lows of show business. Despite some tough times, he has survived three decades in the limelight. Has the celebrity landscape changed? Yes, it has, according to Jason, but the fundamentals are still the same.
“You have to have the ability, a craft and a passion and you have to work very hard at it. I don’t believe in luck. I think you create your own luck but I do believe timing has a lot to do with everything in life.
“I don’t have a problem with shows like X Factor. I don’t have a problem with the way that people come to prominence. It’s whether they’ll still be there in 20 years’ time – that’s when we gauge whether it’s notable or not,” says Jason.
“It’s important to not lose sight of your dreams and be realistic and be humble and be willing to learn. And this is the sort of stuff that I tell my kids all the time.
“I mean, I started out in a soap, not doing Shakespeare at the Royal Academy. Guy Pearce was in a soap opera, so was Russell Crowe and Johnny Depp. So it’s not about how you begin, it’s about how you work beyond that and how you develop.”