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Jason Donovan tells how he succumbed to Priscilla’s charms for Edinburgh Playhouse

A scene from Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, starring Jason Donovan. Picture: Tristram Kenton

A scene from Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, starring Jason Donovan. Picture: Tristram Kenton

CLAD in a figure-hugging lycra bodysuit, complete with built in bosom, Jason Donovan is a sight to behold. He’s also unrecognisable, his disguise helped by an outrageous crown of show-girl feathers, sparkly gold cod-piece, and a pair of enormous fake eyelashes - that’s him in the middle of the picture.

This is Donovan a million miles removed from the character that first introduced him to the British public some 27 years ago, Neighbours heart-throb Scott Robinson.

Now 44, Donovan can look back on a colourful life. Neighbours led to a pop career and a string of hits - including Nothing Can Divide Us, Especially for You, with Kylie Minogue, and Too Many Broken Hearts.

By the 1990s he had turned his attention to musical theatre, accepting the title role in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the London Palladium in 1991.

Leads in The Sound of Music, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd all followed, but even a stint as Frank N Furter in The Rocky Horror Show could not have prepared his fans for his current stage persona - larger-than-life drag queen Tick, in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, The Musical.

Based on the smash-hit movie, Priscilla is the heart-warming, uplifting adventure of three unlikely friends who hop aboard a battered old bus in search of love and friendship, and end up finding far more than they ever could have dreamed.

The musical originally opened in Australia in 2006, running for two years before transferring to London’s West End, where Donovan originated the role of Anthony ‘Tick’ Belrose, aka Mitzi Del Bra.

“It started in Australia but I originated the role for the West End, where the production really got its legs - it is now been on Broadway and has travelled around the world,” says Donovan. “But we have been the most successful version so far,” he adds mishievously.

Donovan reprises the role of Tick at the Playhouse next week, when the campest bus in the southern hemisphere rolls onto the Greenside Place stage, ready to entertain Edinburgh audiences with a dazzling array of outrageous costumes, and a hit parade of dance floor anthems including, It’s Raining Men, Say A Little Prayer, Go West, Hot Stuff and Always on My Mind.

Recalling being first offered the role, Donovan confesses that accepting it was a bit of a no brainer - finally, he would star in Priscilla, Queen of The Desert, some 15 years after turning down the role of Adam Whitely aka Felicia Jollygoodfellow in the 1994 movie version.

“It wasn’t a difficult decision because there are very few opportunities in life to create a role like this,” he says.

“It’s an Australian story that I share a lot of history with, through the film - it goes back that far,” says the actor, who was a finalist in I’m A Celebrity, get Me Out of Here in 2006.

Explaining his connections with the piece he continues, “Originally it was discussed that I should play the role Guy Pierce played in the film; and Simon Phillips, who directed the West End production was a director I had worked with in Melbourne on a number of occasions...” he pauses, before adding philosophically, “... and look, the last time I got to open a show in the West End was Joseph in 91, since then I’ve been recreating roles that other people have made their own, so no, it wasn’t a difficult decision to say yes.

“Actually, it was harder to get the part than to accept it.”

Donovan is being modest, when he talks about film ‘discussions’ - he came far closer to appearing in the movie than first seems.

“I was offered the role but I turned it down,” he confirms. “But it was a bit of a risky role for me at the time as I’d just been through the court case with The Face.”

In 1992, Donovan famously won a libel action against The Face magazine after the publication printed allegations that he was gay.

“I don’t regret turning down the film, but I should have done the role in hindsight,” he admits.

“However, reading that script, at that time, I didn’t really envisage a film about drag queens driving through the desert in Australia and singing some funny songs becoming the international hit that it did. But these things happen - doors that you open and could have gone through.”

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, The Musical, Playhouse, Greenside Place, Monday-Saturday, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), £10-£39.50, 0844-871 3014

The Out-back

When drag queen Anthony ‘Tick’ Belrose is asked to perform in Alice Springs, a remote town in central Australia, he persuades his friends, recently bereaved transsexual Bernadette Basinger and flamboyant, obnoxious young drag queen Adam Whitely to accompany him.

The three set off in a tour bus christened Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and embark on a four-week adventure across the Australian outback.

Along the way they encounter a group of friendly Aborigines and the less accepting attitudes of rural Australia, where they are subjected to homophobic abuse.

When the tour bus breaks down in the middle of the desert, the trio meet Bob, a middle-aged mechanic who joins them on their journey.

As they approach Alice Springs, Tick reveals they are going to work for his wife, as a favour.

The first of a number of unexpected surprises.

 

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