Jason Donovan lets others do the singing as he appears as Sam Philips in Million Dollar Quartet
PUBLISHED: 13:11 22 May 2017 | UPDATED: 13:11 22 May 2017
Despite the prospect of turning 50 next year — yes really — Jason Donovan is as busy as ever, appearing this week as the legendary rock‘n’roll producer in Million Dollar Quartet at Norwich Theatre Royal, and planning a reflective solo show.
“It is time to be a little bit more reflective. I certainly have a good story to tell that’s for sure,” says Jason Donovan has he looks back on decades of being a household name.
He is in reflective mood as he currently putting together an ‘in conversation with’ style show called Jason Donovan and his Amazing Midlife Crisis that he will be touring this autumn.
“It’s a chance to do something different with an audience, tell a few stories, sing some songs and have some fun,” he explains of what he has in mind. “I haven’t really planned it all out yet but it should be interesting. It’s going to be a little more intimate and certainly more personal.”
He is also at time in life when you start to take stock as he turns 50 next year. Yes really, the fresh-faced boy who played Scott Robinson when Neighbours was at the very height of its popularity and who moved from screen to pop stage and then musical theatre, is almost the big 5-0.
For anyone growing up in the 1980s and early 1990s, when he was an unavoidable part of the pop culture landscape, that is probably making you feel a little old — Kylie Minogue also hits that landmark in 2018. But he is taking the prospect in his stride.
“Getting to 50 is a big one. But there are things in life you try and get right – family first, I have a wonderful family, three great kids, a happy marriage, then a job you love – and I go in everyday thinking I enjoy it.
“What after that? I suppose a life with a bit of security – I’m not panicking at 50. I’ve done more than what I wanted to do.”
Jason certainly doesn’t give the sense of having aged at all. He is proving to be something of a Peter Pan when it comes to his appearance and he is as enthusiastic and busy as ever.
Before his solo autumn tour he arrives this week in Broadway and West End award-winning musical Million Dollar Quartet.
He portrays Sam Philips - complete with American accent - the legendary record producer who founded Sun Studios in Memphis and played a key role in the careers of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. The show is based around the real-life record session that united them all.
“I wasn’t aware of Sam Philips before getting this role, but he’s an interesting character,” he says. “A very defining figure in American music history and by pushing the boundaries he sort of changed American culture. What they did in those Sun recordings were the foundation of what we hear today. He broke serious ground by going against the grain and redefining what the kids were listening to at the time.”
Though the show is packed with rock‘n’roll classics, it is as much a portrait of the man. “There are lots of well known songs in it but the best jukebox musicals have great stories at their core and this is much more about Sam Phillips. I looked online and on YouTube there are some great interviews with him. He was certainly a larger than life character.”
One big surprise is that Jason doesn’t sing in the show. “That might be a relief for a lot of people!” he laughs. “I interact within the story. They do a song and then I come in and there is more of the story and it becomes a bit of a play.”
But isn’t it frustrating not to be able to join in such well known songs? “A little,” he admits, “but as much as I would love to look like a younger version of myself playing Elvis Presley, I think the reality is a bit different.”
That younger self did have a successful music career, of course, following Kylie from Neighbours into pop stardom with a string of Stock, Aitken and Waterman produced hits. His debut album in 1989, Ten Good Reasons, sold over 1.5m copies.
And like Kylie, he managed to reinvent himself. In 1991 he landed the lead role in the revival of the Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice classic Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat. It proved to be the hottest ticket in town and packed out the London Palladium.
“Joseph was a perfect storm of music, musical, composer, performer, venue, plus a number one single and album – that doesn’t happen any more,” he reflects.
It led to roles in shows as diverse as Rocky Horror Show to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Sweeney Todd to Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
“I’m proud my career has been quite diverse,” he explains, “It has had different elements to it. In any career you want to do other things. We all struggle with what is on the other side. But I look in the mirror and I’m pretty happy.”
He is keen to still challenge himself: “I did a musical called Annie Get Your Gun, which wasn’t my greatest moment but it was interesting to do. If you were to play the one sort of role all the time it becomes a bit dull. You have got to try to mix it up. A show like Million Dollar Quartet enables that to happen.”
Though he loves performing his busy schedule involves lots of touring, which he admits he finds tough, being away from home.
“It’s tough to say I really enjoy that part of it. I enjoy it in blocks, limited periods, and some towns I enjoy more than others. I love Norwich. It has got a lot of history, some nice walks, and there is a nice Japanese restaurant that I tend to visit. But touring is tough when you’ve got a family and you’re away from home for a long period of time.”
That he is these days able to walk without being mobbed is in stark contrast to the mega-fame and tabloid hysteria that surrounded him in the late-1980s.
“It was part and parcel of what I was doing at the time,” he reflects. “It was part of the job really. I never got into this business to be famous. It was just a by-product of what I did, which was to become an actor. I went with it but I never really took it that seriously. It has it advantages and disadvantages fame, it can be very claustrophobic but it can also be very generous. If you take it seriously though and you don’t have the craft to back it up that’s when it can go wrong.”
When Million Dollar Quartet concludes in New Zealand in June he admits he’ll call time on his role and turn his attention to a string of summer festival dates playing his hits and then his solo tour taking up to 2018.
It’s a hectic year, what will come then? “Perhaps it is time to just try and relax a bit more in my life not working as hard and try and enjoy things a little bit more.”
• Million Dollar Quartet, Norwich Theatre Royal, May 22-27, 7.30pm, 2.30pm May 27, £30-£8, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk
• Jason Donovan and his Amazing Midlife Crisis will be at The Apex, Bury St Edmunds, on October 9, King’s Lynn Corn Exchange on November 3 and Lowestoft Marina Theatre on December 1.