Jason Donovan talks to Jane McGowan about his latest role as a legendary record company boss in a musical adaptation of one of pop’s most famous nights - The Million Dollar Quartet. Coming to Richmond Theatre Feb 6-11
In a career spanning 30 years, Jason Donovan has pretty much ticked all the showbiz boxes: hunky soap star, pop heartthrob, West End performer, serious actor and radio DJ. He has even managed to throw in a celebrity affair (Kylie Minogue), overcome a five-year cocaine addiction and appear on a clutch of TV reality shows (I’m a Celebrity, Strictly).
Now this versatile performer is the star of Million Dollar Quartet, a musical inspired by one of the most celebrated events in rock: the night of Dec 4, 1956 when Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley all came together for one impromptu ‘jam’, instigated by the legendary Sam Phillips (Donovan), producer and founder of Sun Records. The show hits Richmond Theatre this month.
“Sam is an incredible character,” says Donovan. “In many ways he was the father of rock ’n’ roll and went against the conventions of the time. He believed in the music and was a really big character: the Pete Waterman or Simon Cowell of his day.”
Set in the famous Sun Studio, opened by Phillips in 1950, the show includes some of the most acclaimed rock ‘n’ roll tracks of all time, including Blue Suede Shoes, Great Balls of Fire and Hound Dog. Yet despite its upbeat sound, it does deal with the industry’s darker side.
“It’s actually more like a play with music, showing the ups and downs of the business,” reflects Donovan. “The game playing; the fact that, with so many egos, it’s not always about the music.”
The 48-year-old is, of course, no stranger to the record industry, having been signed along with his Neighbours co-star Kylie Minogue to the legendary Stock, Aitken, Waterman stable in the 80s. But with two, multimillion-selling albums behind him, Donovan swapped pop for musical theatre, taking the lead in a revamp of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Since then he has gone on to play such notable parts as Dr Frank N Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Tick in Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Aside from musicals, he has starred in several dramas in his native Australia and has a regular Sunday night radio spot as a DJ on Heart.
“I didn’t really set out with ambitions,” he explains. “Only to be a good actor. I certainly didn’t envisage the career I’ve had, and yes, I’ve been lucky. But to some extent you make your own luck – you don’t get lucky sitting at home.”
Donovan is returning to the show following a break for his Ten Good Reasons & Greatest Hits Tour, which played to packed houses in late 2016. Being able to mix the various aspects of his career is a freedom for which he is grateful.
“I don’t tour all the time, so when I do it has meaning for me. I’m not one of those acts that roll out their back catalogue every Christmas.”
He “likes to keep busy”, but admits that balancing a career with family life – his children are 17, 16 and 5 – is tough. Nor does he get back to Australia as much as he would like.
“Yes, it’s a real shame, especially at this time of year,” he laughs. “In Oz, January is just like August is here; really chilled.”
Still, never mind. It’s called being in demand.
- Million Dollar Quartet comes to Richmond Theatre, February 6-11. For tickets visit atgtickets.com
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