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Donovan still up for getting on stage in a bra

AFTER more than 400 performances in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, you would perhaps assume Jason Donovan to be less than keen to re-clip a tight bra and wear camel eyelashes and tropical fruit-filled headgear every working night of the week?

GLAM: Former Neighbours star Jason Donovan as drag queen Tick.
GLAM: Former Neighbours star Jason Donovan as drag queen Tick.

"Well, it's a fair question," says the Aussie actor and musical theatre star, smiling. "And if you'd asked me to go back into Priscilla in town (the West End) two years ago I'd have said no. I've done that. And it can be hard work getting up there on stage. But aside from the fact I'm a father (of three) with bills to pay, to be honest, I loved the idea of touring with it."

The one-time Neighbours-turned pop star adds: "What also encouraged me to come back was the producers tailored the show a little bit more around my character, which is great."

Donovan loves his character, Tick, the Sydney-based drag queen (married with a son) who accepts an offer to perform in Alice Springs and persuades friends and fellow performers Bernadette, a recently bereaved transsexual woman, and Adam a flamboyant but obnoxious young drag queen, to go with him. The three set out in a large tour bus, Priscilla, but along the way the layers of each character are peeled away as they encounter huge adversity.

"You know, sometimes in life magic happens, when things all come together wonderfully," says Donovan of the show. "And Priscilla is one of those moments. I don't tend to go back into my past life too often - it's like putting on a pair of old shoes - but what I have learned from reflection is that when good things happen to you should stick with them, rather than run away, as I did."

It's been well documented Jason Donovan's little finger was all too often poised to press the self-destruct button back.

After he turned to pop-stardom, he found himself burning candles at all three ends, with an over-reliance on artificial highs.

But he became a born-again performer when rescued by musical theatre, starring in Joseph in 1991. Since then theatre producers of the likes of Chitty, Sweeney Todd and Rocky Horror have long realised landing Donovan guarantees a solid level of work - and he guarantees bums landing on seats.

However, he maintains, correctly, that Priscilla isn't a jukebox musical, dependent upon the likes of I Will Survive to survive. There's real drama to be played out in the piece.

"It's actually a well-crafted piece of theatre," he says of the show which opened in Australia in 2006. "I know it's not Shakespeare but it's very funny, it's very tragic, it's very poignant, it's moralistic, it's immoral. What glues it together though is a great story and I think the music has been chosen extremely well.

"Sure, I have to do it eight times a week, and it can be bloody hard. But I could never hate it. Repetition can create disdain, but I'm far from jaded."

Donovan has taken to musical theatre like Tick takes to sequins. Ironically, he never chose the yellow brick road to career success.

"If you'd said to me 20 years ago I'd be starring in musical theatre I'd probably have looked at you with horror," he says, laughing.

"No, musical theatre found me. But I'm very lucky it has. I can grow old with musical theatre. You can't grow old being a pop star, unless you're Mick or Elton. And I'm definitely not in that mould. Thankfully, theatre works for me and there's an audience who'll come and see me. I think they know the choices I make are good ones."

However, actor's son Donovan, who's been on screen since the age of 11, says there is a downside to being a musical theatre star. TV drama producers throw little more than a curious eye in his direction.

"It's hard to get them to see past the idea of me wearing a loin cloth and a pair of white fluffy socks," he says, with a shrug. "I've been trying hard to make something happen with television but I guess the biggest problem is I'm Jason Donovan. And that's just the way it is. I was giving the opportunity to do films in the early nineties and I chose to become a pop star instead.

"I've made my own bed as far as Hollywood is concerned. And I guess Guy Pierce, who's a friend of mine, took a lot of those roles I was offered. But I don't spend my night thinking 'What if?' The career is all about swings and roundabouts. And it's about longevity."

Perhaps he's not old enough yet for the TV character roles? Perhaps he's still a little too good looking?

"That will change soon enough, mate," he says, grinning. "Although I'm thinking I may need a little bit more hair soon.

"Yet, for someone who's partied pretty hard over the years, I'm doing all right."

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, The Edinburgh Playhouse, March 3 - April 5.

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