Swan Theatre, Wycombe
3-8 April 2006
Wed & Sat Mat: 2.30pm
There's no denying that Jason Donovan has come along way since Scott Robinson, the part he played in "Neighbours" from 1986-1989, married his screen sweetheart Charlene, played by Kylie Minogue, in a ceremony that has since been voted the top TV wedding ever! At the time it sent ratings through the roof, and even made the cover of TIME Australia.
By the time it was screened in the UK in November 1988, Jason-mania was well underway! He had already launched himself as a pop star and he went on to have huge success as a recording artist under the Stock, Aitken and Waterman banner with songs
such as "Too Many Broken Hearts", "Nothing Can Divide Us", "Oh Everyday" and the of course, the classic duet with Kylie, "Especially For You".
|Jason Donovan as Sweeney Todd|
As a teen idol, he clocked up 17 hit singles and sold millions of records, and of course, on top of this success there was always the burning question about whether Kylie and Jason were an item off screen as well as on!
For two decades now, Jason has been on a journey, both professionally and personally. At the height of his fame he both wowed and surprised the West End as Joseph in the Andrew Lloyd Webber extravaganza before dropping off the UK radar due to a much publicised "dark time" which included a drug problem and a court case in which he received damages after suing a magazine which accused him of being gay.
Now a confirmed family man with two young children, who he admits have changed his life, he has found fame again in recent years as lawyer Richard Savage in the weekly Australian TV series "MDA" and some acclaimed performances in musical theatre in this country including The Rocky Horror Show as Frank N Furter and as Caratacus Potts in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang".
He has just begun a tour in the demanding title role of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd in the European premier of the Broadway production. I caught up with him after he had spent a particularly gruelling afternoon in a technical rehearsal at the Milton Keynes Theatre, the first venue on the tour after Brighton, where the show was produced.
A bit less blonde than he used to be but, still with the wonderful flashing smile that graced the pictures on my bedroom wall (oops!) he revealed how this role was a real departure for him, and why we may yet see another album!
Sweeney Todd - it's a bit of a gorefest isn't it?!
Jason: Well, I don't want to spill too many thoughts here but it's all really done with a lot of imagery. So, if you're actually expecting a lot of blood pouring out of people's throats then you're going to be a little bit disappointed! There is blood but it's used in a particularly sophisticated sort of way!
It's really a play with music. Normally Sweeney Todd has this reputation as being this guy who just cuts people up because he can, but he's actually seeking revenge for the fact that his daughter and his wife were "handled" by a character within the show. So he wants to get revenge, that's the premise of the show. He's not going around cutting people's throats because they walk past his barber shop - so it has an interesting twist to it.
What attracted you to this particular part?
Jason: I think it's a darker piece than I've ever done before. I'm at that age now when I want to explore other things and .... well it was offered to me!
|"It's not without its old anxious moments but it's possibly the most rewarding thing I've ever done."|
I've been very apprehensive about this one because it is a big thing to take on. It's not a small piece and the actors play musical instruments. I play instruments on it (guitar and glockenspiel) and we all move in between scenes and do various bits and pieces. As I say, it's a very sophisticated sort of piece. And it's not without its old anxious moments but it's possibly the most rewarding thing I've ever done.
It's very Brechtian in its approach, with everybody on stage all the time. What do you think has been the biggest challenge for you?
Jason: I think that the singing has possibly been my biggest challenge - starting to sing where I should be singing! It's not pop music and it's not popular songs, it lends itself more to opera I suppose or musical theatre / opera but John Doyle, the director, was very keen to make sure that it didn't become boring in a sense.
When you go to opera they sing beautifully and it sounds fantastic but sometimes it's a little bit like "OK - you can sing!" Sweeney Todd has been done by companies before where that has been a slight criticism. It can be done in very many ways but I think what we have is a very gritty, dirty version.
In fact, it's as though you're throwing all your musical theatre knowledge out the door as this is something very different. It doesn't mean that we sing like the Sex Pistols but it's interesting!
So it's more of a drama with music rather than dialogue / song / dialogue / song?
Jason: Correct - yes definitely.
After an amazing pop career, you've had such a renaissance in musical theatre in recent years. How do you see yourself? As an actor first?
Jason: I don't really see myself as anything other than someone who performs and can take on different roles and different tasks. I think to pigeon hole yourself into one area limits opportunities and so far many of my successes have lay in the fact that I've been broader than just an actor.
You had massive success as a singer - do you think you will record again in that way?
|Harriet Thorpe and Jason Donovan|
Jason: Yeah - I'm doing a little bit of recording now but it's been a little bit of a hobby for me I suppose in the last few years. I'm not deluded by illusions of grandeur that I want to storm the pop charts and expect a number one record, so I'm working on some stuff at the moment but who knows what will happen?
It might see the light of day but I think it's the best stuff I've done and music wise, the songs are great.
So we might see an album?
Jason: We might see an album yeah - you never know!
Do you enjoy touring, because you're quite a family man now aren't you?
Jason: No - I'm not a big fan of touring! I don't mind the odd week here and there. One week blocks are fine and it actually kills the boredom of sitting in one theatre for a long period of time. And I'll get back to see my kids tonight although I'll probably stay up here for the rest of the week.
Has having children changed your life?
You've had a much publicised dark period, have they helped you to turn it around?
|Jason Donovan on Top of the Pops (1989)|
Jason: Definitely - it's helped me change my approach to my life and it just brings you back to the basics in life. This is all playing in sand this stuff (theatre). It means nothing in the greater picture when you've got two children who depend on you and love you and care for you - it's great. The best thing that's ever happened to me.
Do you still get screaming fans outside the stage door?
Jason: I get a few fans but I don't know that they're screaming anymore! But it's all good!
Now - knowing I was coming to see you, I couldn't resist this! [Brings out 16 year old board game: "Jason Donovan - Straight from the Heart" that was a Christmas present - honest it was!] Do you remember it?
Jason: [Laughs] The board game yeah?
The whole premise of the game was to answer questions about you so I just wanted to ask you a couple of them to see if they were real?
Jason: I won't know the answers!! They would have been real but it's all from a long time ago!
OK then, What's your favourite season?
Jason: Ummm - oh god - Spring?? Maybe summer? I haven't got a clue?
It was summer actually! Let's try another one then - what's your favourite food!
|Jason Donovan on Top of the Pops (1989)|
Jason: Chicken maybe?
Garlic bread I'm afraid!
Jason: Ah - you see I've changed my tastes over the years!
Well now all my glorious victories have been exposed as a sham we'll go back to sanity! How would you sell this show?
Jason: [looking relieved!] I'd sell it on the fact that it's an educating and enriching experience. I think that if you listen to the story it's beautifully told with great music and I'm in it!!
Come and see me!! It's something a bit weird - this is not your normal Jason Donovan!
So what's next for you?
Jason: I'm doing a play in Melbourne called Festen [an incest-themed play] which is another dark piece so that's going to be an interesting experience as well! It's going to be a big year with interesting stuff. I'm excited - it's a good year, and we'll see what comes from it all!
And it's all very different from Scott Robinson? Do you have good memories from your time on Neighbours?
Jason: Oh yes - absolutely - all good, it was very good growing up there!
Read Ian Pearce's review of Sweeney Todd at the Milton Keynes Theatre.
Buckets of blood! >
And with that - he made a girl who is only slightly older than she was in 1990 very happy - he signed my precious board game - and then went off to prepare for the opening night in Milton Keynes!