Tag Archives: Jason Donovan

Great Scott!

JASON DONOVAN: Amazing Midlife Crisis Tour

Artrix, Bromsgrove, Wednesday 8th May, 2019

 

I remember a Jason Donovan gig at the NEC at the height of his teenybop fame.  I remember standing and watching over a sea of screaming tweens, with the heads of parents dotted here and there, bobbing like buoys.   Tonight, thirty years later (bloody hell) the mums are out in force and there’s no sign of a kid in sight.    As Donovan has grown and developed from teen idol/soap superstud so his audience has matured.  The show is not a concert but a retrospective natter about Donovan’s life and career, prompted by reaching his 50th birthday last year, and he proves himself an engaging raconteur, regaling us with anecdote after anecdote, all of them laced with down-to-Earth Aussie humour and swearing.

He speaks of his early life as only child to a famous single parent, his early forays into television before his big break in sunshine soap Neighbours, culminating in the iconic wedding of Scott and Charlene.  We are shown brief clips, but it’s enough to get the nostalgia gland working.

There’s his pop career, his relationship with Kylie, the diversification into musical theatre.  I have fond memories of him in his loin cloth, playing Lloyd Webber’s Joseph at the London Palladium.  Sigh…

There’s Priscilla, the ‘Jungle’, Strictly…

Donovan speaks frankly about the highs and the lows of finding fame so young.  The cocaine (highs, which are lows, I suppose).  He suffers from a throat problem that means he has botox injections in his neck every few months.  We can hear the croakiness – luckily, his singing voice is unaffected and, he quips, he now has the best-looking neck in showbusiness!

He is joined on stage by guitarist Marcus Bonfanti and we are treated to acoustic renditions of a couple of his biggest hits.  We sing along and it’s a lovely communion.

There’s a Q and A to round things off.  Audience members have jotted questions on postcards and he reads them out and answers them with good humour.  Most of them involve propositions (and no, I refrained from adding my plea to the pile!); I suspect a couple of them are staged, providing funny call-backs to earlier stories.

What comes across most of all is openness, warmth and a complete lack of pretension.  Jason Donovan may not have reached the Hollywood heights of Neighbours co-star Guy Pearce or the apotheosis of Kylie Minogue, but he reminds us tonight of how ingrained he is into popular culture.  It’s touching to hear him speak about his wife and kids.  It’s also moving to reflect on the passage of time, how life has affected him, how it has affected us, in the decades that have passed since he first pointed out there are too many broken hearts in the world.

Ah, Jason, you didn’t break my heart but you certainly touched it.

Donovan

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Worth Every Cent

MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Birmingham Hippodrome, Monday 24th October, 2016

 

“On December 4, 1956, one man brought Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley to play together for the first and only time.  His name was Sam Phillips… the place was Sun Records…  That night they made rock ‘n’ roll history.”

The above caption sets the scene for a dramatic reconstruction of that historic meeting and an excuse to play a lot of old songs!  Set in the recording studio in which the aforementioned artistes cut their first hits, the play is a jukebox musical of sorts, as well as a biography.  Above all, it’s a tribute concert to four icons of American popular music.

Jason Donovan is Phillips, our narrator – since when is pop heartthrob Donovan the senior member of any cast?!  Where does the time go?! – and as he welcomes the men back to Sun Records, he shows us, in brief flashback scenes how he first encountered each one.  Donovan’s Dukes of Hazzard accent is in keeping with the setting and he still looks great.  He doesn’t get to sing, though.

We meet Jerry Lee Lewis, a young and talented piano player and something of a loudmouth.  Martin Kaye dazzles with his piano-playing and amuses with his irrepressible characterisation.  Lewis rubs Carl Perkins (Matthew Wycliffe) up the wrong way, giving rise to most of the tension of the piece – and also a good deal of the humour in the form of some ‘banterous’ put-downs from both parties.  Wycliffe is absolutely excellent as Perkins, and he can’t half play a mean gee-tah.   Robbie Durham’s Johnny Cash brings a deeper voice to the ensemble and Ross William Wild’s Elvis Presley is vocally outstanding.  The hits keep coming: Blue Suede Shoes, Great Balls of Fire – but a standout moment for me is when Elvis’s girlfriend of the time, Dyanne (Katie Ray) treats us to a rendition of Peggy Lee’s Fever.

The plot is wafer-thin and the script, riddled with funny lines, is peppered with nostalgic references (back when gas was 25 cents) and dramatic irony (we know Elvis will return to Vegas).  It’s also rather poignant when the foursome pose for the famous snapshot – we know what’s ahead for them, the tragedies that await them as well as their successes.

Supported by James Swinnerton on bass and Ben Cullingworth on drums, the cast, playing and singing live, generate a lot of energy that proves irresistible.  It’s a feel-good show that gets your toes tapping from the get-go and dancing along before the finish.  Each of the four stars is superbly represented by this talented cast, who create an authentic sound and remind us why rock ‘n’ roll was such a revolutionary sound when it first emerged.

Breath-taking.

 

carl-perkins-million-dollar-quartet

Keep your feet off his footwear: Matthew Wycliffe as Carl ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ Perkins

 

 


Another Outing

PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT – The Musical

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 20th October, 2015

 

The big pink bus is back on the road and it’s better than ever. This tour has been touched up, so to speak, re-vamped for extra glitz and glamour. Based on the cult film, it’s the kind of show to which people keep returning. Why?

Basically, you know you’re in for a good time. The score is comprised of pop and disco hits, the script is packed with funny one-liners, and the message is still relevant, still life-affirming even though no one is forcing anything down anyone’s throat. It’s an explosion of light, colour and humanity, a clarion call for tolerance in the face of brutal homophobia. What struck me this time is the relationship between Tick (who, shockingly, is married to a woman!) and his estranged son. Tick worries the boy will reject him but Benji (Toby Gretton) turns out to be the most accepting, tolerant and loving person in the whole show. You see, folks: if you don’t teach your kids to be homophobic (or racist, sexist, or what-have-you) they won’t grow up to espouse those attitudes.

Jason Donovan returns to the role of Tick and is just about perfect. While he was lip-synching I’ve Never Been To Me I reflected on just how many years he has been around. I don’t know when it happened exactly but the mulleted soap star turned pop star pin-up has developed into one of our most popular, respected and skilful performers. He receives a warm hand on his entrance and an ovation at his curtain call. In between, he is superb: sassy but sensitive, sardonic but sweet. When he sings, his rich tones give you shivers. In this context Say A Little Prayer takes on a whole new meaning when it’s about a drag queen singing to the son he’s never met.

Simon Green is spot on as aging transsexual Bernadette, delivering elegance and barbed put-downs in equal measure. The charm and grace hide an inner strength and resilience most ‘real men’ lack. Adam Bailey is adorably annoying as young Adam, out for fun and ending up in hot water. More than eye candy, Bailey is an electrifying performer. Hot Stuff indeed.

There is strong support from a hard-working and versatile ensemble. Naomi Slights is appealing as Tick’s wife Marion – the only female not caricatured in the entire piece – while Catherine Mort’s redneck barmaid Shirley is hilarious in her repulsiveness. Julie Yammanee’s Cynthia is outrageously funny – her speciality act is eye-popping, shall we say?

Callum Macdonald Tina-Turners it up as drag artiste Miss Understanding, warming us up for the main event. By contrast, Philip Childs’s Bob is a down-to-earth Aussie bloke who finds himself enchanted by the considerable charms of Bernadette.

It’s a party as much as a musical. The feel-good factor is undeniable but there is more to the show than that. Beneath all the feathers and sequins (Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner’s Oscar-winning costumes are a cavalcade of comic invention) run the emotions we all share. The show reminds us we’re all human. In a time when homophobia still blights the lives of millions in unenlightened corners of the world, Priscilla’s latest outing may be preaching to the converted but it’s an important affirmation of human rights, an irresistible blast of light and boost to the soul.

Jason Donovan as Tick (Photo: Paul Coltas)

Jason Donovan as Tick (Photo: Paul Coltas)


Royal Pain

THE KING’S SPEECH

The REP, Birmingham, Thursday 26th February, 2015

 

David Seidler’s play became more widely known – globally, in fact – through its Oscar-winning film adaptation. Add to that the ever-popular Jason Donovan in the cast and you have quite a seat-filler on your hands.

It’s almost a history play, in the Shakespearean sense. We see the trials and tribulations of those who rule. Functioning as a chorus, Winston Churchill (Nicholas Blane) and the Archbishop of Canterbury (Martin Lang) keep the historical details and no small amount of Royal gossip coming.

But at its heart, it is the story of the friendship between two men who are, almost literally, poles apart. Raymond Coulthard, who has always looked regal, is stammering Bertie, driven to seek the assistance of speech therapist Lionel Logue (Jason Donovan). The best scenes are when these two are alone together, negotiating through their prickly relationship both a friendship and a means to save the credibility of a monarchy under pressure.

Coulthard is sublime – his is the more challenging role – and, regardless of one’s views of the monarchy as an institution – you can’t help rooting for him. Donovan inhabits his role as the bluff Australian, who doesn’t give a stuff for protocol and convention, and it’s a revelatory performance. He seems totally at home and natural, in contrast with Coulthard’s repressed and vulnerable Prince. Logue’s auditions for Shakespearean roles are terrible – but Donovan keeps their mannered delivery within the realms of believability.

Both men are supported by their wives. Claire Lams is cool-headed but caring as Bertie’s Mrs (mother to our present Queen), withering in her putdowns. The splendid Katy Stephens is Logue’s Sheila, Myrtle, adding more Aussie drawl among the cut-glass accents. Bertie’s brother David, who becomes Edward VIII, is very much the villain of the piece – not because of his anti-Semitism and his fraternisation with Nazis, but because his affair with an American divorcee threatens to undermine the Establishment. Jamie Hinde plays him as a nasty, hedonistic piece of work. All our sympathies are skewed towards Bertie, the victim of bullying and mockery by David and also their father, George V (William Hoyland).

Tom Piper’s set is all wooden panels – the floorboards radiate in a sunburst, bringing to mind a 1930s wireless – but gradually reveals its secrets and its versatility as the action unfolds. Director Roxana Silbert uses the flexibility of the set to the hilt, keeping the action continuous, with transitions flowing from one scene to the next, like a musical. But it is her handling of the ups and downs, the peaks and troughs of the central relationship of the two men that shows attention to detail and an ear for contrast and an eye for timing.

The show is a triumph for all concerned. Even if you’ve seen the film, I defy you not to be royally entertained throughout and then, right at the end, moved by the simple declaration of gratitude and friendship, and a breach of protocol on Bertie’s part: he removes his glove to shake Logue by the hand. In those closing seconds, we see how far he has come. Logue has not only taught him how to speak in public, he has turned a Prince into a man.

Raymond Coulthard and Jason Donovan (Photo: Hugo Glendinning)

Raymond Coulthard and Jason Donovan (Photo: Hugo Glendinning)


The Whole Shooting Match

ANNIE GET YOUR GUN

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 1st July 2014

 

Irving Berlin’s classic musical is given a fresh makeover in this touring production.

Herbert and Dorothy Fields’s script still crackles with funny one-liners but new additions by Peter Stone give the show a slightly Brechtian feel, with the theatricality of the production laid bare, and scenes announced as they are set up.  It’s like a palatable version of Chicago – here the characters have at least one redeeming quality if they’re not out-and-out lovable.    The score contains standards everyone knows: There’s No Business Like Show Business is a gem of an opening number and recurring motif, and Anything You Can Do is a comic highlight.

Set in Buffalo Bill’s Big Top, the story of the rivalry and romance between Frank Butler (Jason Donovan) and Annie Oakley (Emma Williams) is played out, with only crates and cases for scenery, and the band and other cast members on stage throughout.  Billowing red and white striped cloths evoke the circus tent, but rather than alienating us, these devices draw us in.

Norman Pace looks hale and hearty as Southern gentleman and showman Buffalo Bill Cody – in his white suit and goatee you expect him to crack out the fried chicken at any second.  Jason Donovan looks great in Butler’s clothes (he should wear them all the while – when he’s not in his Joseph loincloth, of course!) and his characterisation works well.  I feel he lacks the vocal power at times to match Butler’s blowhard posturing – although I did hear his mic crackle a couple of times, so perhaps that explains it.

Lorna Want and Yiftach Mizrahi are charming as young lovers in a mixed-race subplot, and as Want’s elder showgirl sister Dolly, Kara Lane struts around splendidly as the show’s nominal villain.  There is strong character support from Dermot Canavan as hotel owner Wilson and Cody’ rival showman Pawnee Bill, while Ed Currie towers over the proceedings as a dignified but funny Sitting Bull.

The show belongs, though, to Emma Williams’s Annie Oakley.  From her entrance as a scruffy, cross-dressing trapper/hunter to her transformation into a star through the magic and machinations of show business, she is superb.  Her characterisation is broad but it works beautifully and her singing voice is by far the best in the company.  You admire the performer and care for the character in this vibrant and engaging treatment of a heart-warming, old school musical that hits every target.

 

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Emma Williams, Jason Donovan and Norman Pace


The Main Drag

PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 18th March, 2013

 

I first saw the stage musical adaptation of one of my favourite films in the West End; I was delighted to see Jason Donovan reprise his role as Tick for this touring production.  For those that don’t know (and Welcome to Planet Earth) the plot involves two gay men and a transsexual travelling in a bus (the titular Priscilla) from Sydney to Alice Springs to perform their drag act at the casino/hotel of Tick’s ex-wife.  We follow their adventures and misadventures along the way, meet a cavalcade of outlandish characters and generally have a gay old time.

The show keeps many of the film’s best elements, notably the Oscar-winning costume designs (the dress made of flip-flops, for example) but also fleshes out the dialogue in some places and bungs in a few extra songs.

What elevates the show above other ‘jukebox’ musicals is the story.  Songs from the film’s soundtrack are used judiciously to develop the plot or reveal character, rather than the lazy shoehorning of an artist’s back catalogue that you get with so many of these things.  This show has heart – most of it comes from Jason Donovan’s character, as the gay man worried he won’t be able to be a good father to his surprise six-year-old son.  But also you can’t help loving Richard Grieve in Terence Stamp’s iconic role as Bernadette the ageing transsexual.  Grieve brings grace and elegance to the role, knowing when to lower his vocal register to butch up for a scathing putdown or filthy punchline.  The third in this trash-talking trio is Graham Weaver as young Adam.  He gives us a show-stopping performance of a medley of Kylie Minogue songs – This is a deviation from the film that doesn’t sit well with me: the characters’ obsession with ABBA has been swapped for a Kylie fetish.  I’m guessing this is to avoid clashes with hugely successful jukebox show Mamma Mia!

Bernadette embarks on a hesitant relationship with mechanic Bob (Giles Watling) when he shows up to mend Priscilla’s engine.  Their scenes are genuinely touching – the show needs to balance out its depiction of straight people after the parade of redneck horrors.  Grieve and Watling make a lovely couple.  Frances Mayli McCann as Bob’s Vietnamese wife Cynthia is an hilarious, grotesque cameo, whose party piece with Ping-Pong balls makes your eyes water. Properly tear-jerking though are the moments between Donovan and his son Benj (played by the very sweet Oscar Francisco in the performance I saw).  These scenes are touching without being mawkish, showing that children won’t grow up to be homophobic unless you teach them to be.  Donovan is in good voice (and shape) and is matched by the rest of the company in this energetic and uplifting production.

The company is impressive.  Stand-outs include Alan Hunter whose turn as Tina Turner is literally staggering, and Ellie Leah as backwoods barmaid Shirley whose boobs have to be seen to be believed!

There were a few technical issues – it was the show’s first night at this venue: videos jamming, props going astray – but nothing obtrusive to mar my enjoyment.

For all its glitz and glamour, the show recognises that homophobia is still very much with us.  It’s not all sequins and champagne, darlings, but the emphasis is on fun.  It’s a positive view, a life-affirming view, and an exhilarating night at the theatre.

priscilla