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Donovan dons drag for Priscilla at the Palace

Reporter: Caroline Bishop, first published Tue 16 Sep 2008 14:43
Jason Donovan will join experienced Australian stage star Tony Sheldon and young West End actor Oliver Thornton in leading the cast of Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, a new musical which opens at the Palace theatre on 23 March (previews from 10 March).

Sequins, Lycra and feathered plumage were in wild abundance at the Palace this morning as Andre Ptaszynski of the Really Useful Group, which is co-producing the show in London, introduced the cast of the Sydney production as well as those who will be donning drag in the West End.

Based on the 1994 Oscar-winning film The Adventures Of Priscilla Queen Of The Desert starring Guy Pearce, Hugo Weaving and Terence Stamp, this new stage version premiered in Sydney in 2006 and, following a recent tour to New Zealand, will return to Sydney this autumn due to public demand.

Billed as a ‘heart-warming, uplifting adventure’, the story follows a Sydney-based performing trio comprised of two drag queens and a transsexual, who hop aboard a battered old bus (nicknamed Priscilla) to take their show to the middle of the Australian outback. Searching for love and friendship, the trio end up finding more than they could ever have dreamed.

Donovan returns to the London stage to play Tick, aka drag queen Mitzi. After achieving meteoric fame in the UK and his native Australia while playing Scott Robinson in Neighbours, Donovan went on to enjoy a successful recording career. He has previously been seen on the London stage in the title role of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, as Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and as the titular demon barber in Sweeney Todd. Since returning to the public eye in ITV’s I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here in 2006, Donovan has published an autobiography, appeared in soap Echo Beach and is about to release his first album for 15 years.

Sheldon created the role of Bernadette on stage in Sydney and makes his West End debut in the role at the Palace. One of Australia’s best-known stage actors, Sheldon’s extensive credits in Australia include The Producers, The Witches Of Eastwick, Noises Off, The Chalk Garden, I Hate Hamlet and Private Lives. Also a scriptwriter and director, he has directed productions for the Melbourne International Arts Festival and Sydney Theatre Company.

The role of Adam, otherwise known as Felicia, is to be played by British actor Thornton, whose West End credits include Rent, The Phantom Of The Opera, Les Miserables and Chicago. He has also sung on tour with theatrical boy band Teatro.

The cast also features Clive Carter as trusty mechanic Bob. An experienced stage actor, Carter’s recent London credits include Take Flight at the Menier Chocolate factory, A Man For All Seasons at the Haymarket and currently Crooked Wood at the Jermyn Street theatre. He was previously on the stage of the Palace in Les Misérables more than 20 years ago.

Priscilla Queen Of The Desert is written by Stephan Elliott – who also wrote and directed the film – and Allan Scott and directed by Simon Phillips, Artistic Director of Melbourne Theatre Company. The London production is produced by Liz Koops and Garry McQuinn for Back Row Productions, Michael Hamlyn for Specific Films, Allan Scott and the Really Useful Group.

Speaking about RUG’s decision to co-produce the show in London, Ptaszynski said he was “completely knocked out” by the musical when he saw it in Sydney, citing both “the impact of the production itself” and “the award-winning costumes and a score and songs to die for”.

The musical features the costume designs of Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner, who also designed the costumes for the film and who had never worked in theatre before this production. Almost 500 costumes are used by the production, and the outlandish designs include a headdress containing 25 rubber ducks and another featuring an aquarium complete with fish. Speaking about the designers, producer McQuinn said: “They were unhampered by any notions of reality or practicality, which in the end informed the whole of the show. Their fabulous imagination created the design aesthetic for the show. And all else seemed to flow from that.”

The musical’s score is packed with dance floor classics including I Say A Little Prayer, Hot Stuff, Venus, Downtown and I Will Survive.

Priscilla Queen Of The Desert is now booking at the Palace until 26 September 2009. Further casting is to be announced.


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