It will be a massive deal when Priscilla Queen of the Desert opens at Oxford’s New Theatre on Monday August 23.
Because not only does Jason Donovan produce it, but it marks the official reopening for Oxford’s New Theatre after 18 months of darkness.
Which must make Priscilla the perfect post-lockdown show then? “Musicals are the perfect antidote to what we’ve been through because we need escapism,” Jason agrees. “And even though Priscilla can be harsh, and tough at times – it’s not Disney, put it that way – it taps into that thing of ‘I will survive’.
“It’s escapism because it’s a story about overcoming adversity. Plus as a musical it’s sort of a celebration of life. It’s such a happy, upbeat show about everyone getting on and living together which is very relevant at this time.”
And having had to pause the tour because of the pandemic, as theatres such as Oxford’s New Theatre were forced to close, he knows this as much as anyone. “I guess the difficult thing was the uncertainty of when everything was put on pause,” he says. “It was disappointing but we always have to put people’s health and safety first.”
But as a first time producer this must have been especially disappointing? “Theatre is a very tribal experience and it requires crowds,” he says. “You need to laugh, cry and be embarrassed all together in the same room. You need to cheer and have hope amidst lots of other people. Let’s just hope that we’re now turning a corner. And I’ve raised money for the show and am very much involved in it.”
So nice to be back then? “I’m 52, I’ve had a lot of experience , I enjoy people, I enjoy actors, so this is about bringing a team back together and being a proper, hands-on producer, not just a ‘stunt’ producer.
And how’s the reality of that? “It’s an exhausting show to do. It requires a lot of energy and touring is tough because you’re away from home. But I can tell you which Marks & Spencer is in which town and where the local Wagamama is!”
Starring alongside Miles Western, Nick Hayes and Edwin Ray Jason says they have “energy, passion and honesty”.
“Priscilla needs to be real and for that it needs really good actors. If you just play it for the music, the songs and the dance routines then it’s just a jukebox musical. But this show does have a purpose.”
Having starred in the original West End production, Priscilla is therefore very close to his heart. “Getting the chance to be the first person to play a role in a new production is really rare, so getting to do Priscilla in the first UK production was so cool because it’s such a cool and edgy musical. It’s a bit abrupt at times but it makes you sit back and think.
“But then we’re a much more inclusive society now. Social media has probably played a part in that and I think the youth are far more accepting of diversity. They’re more in-tune with the way people live and different sexualities.”
Not bad then for someone who burst onto our TV screens back in 1985 alongside Kylie Minogue! “I’ve made a good career and a good life out of this business. Neighbours obviously changed my life and I’m very grateful for that, but there are lots of shows I’ve enjoyed doing… Chicago and Joseph of course. There are so many highlights.
“But My biggest achievement is my family and the fact that I’m still here, still going, still alive and still doing what I love so much.
Priscilla Queen of the Desert comes to the New Theatre Oxford from 23 – 28 August, which marks the reopening of the George Street venue, which has been closed since mid-March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. To book go to www.atgtickets.com/oxford