Jason Donovan as a handsome womaniser? Is this typecasting wonder?
Mr Handsome looks at me with those big brown eyes and modestly shrugs off the moniker.
Jason is the big name draw – all six barrels of him – in the rootin’ tootin’ western musical Annie Get Your Gun which is now touring nationally and comes to Oxford’s New Theatre later this month.
After watching a performance of the show in Manchester I met up with Jason (calm down, ladies) and co-stars, the affable comedian-turned-actor Norman Pace and supremely talented newcomer Emma Williams (more from them next Friday).
Set in the Wild West of the 1880s Jason plays gunslinger Frank Butler, sharp-shooting star of Buffalo Bill’s travelling circus, who meets his match when he takes on country girl Annie Oakley in a contest of skill.
For a long time Frank’s huge ego resists Annie’s naïve charms but this being a classic, old school, Broadway and Hollywood musical well, shucks, love scores a bullseye.
Jason, 46, is a workaholic. In the past ten years he has barely drawn breath with new albums, TV, and stage-work.
The Aussie has taken leading roles in huge West End and touring shows including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Sweeney Todd, The Sound Of Music and Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds.
Since 2009 he has been slipping in and out of high heels and drag with Priscilla Queen of the Desert and left the latest tour only two days prior to strapping on the pistols for Annie.
The star looks tired but says: “I like to keep busy. I enjoy working. I’d rather be doing something than sitting around not doing anything. This was too good an opportunity to miss”.
Jason is back on home ground – of sorts – with his arrival in Oxford for that’s where his wife, Angela, is from and the county where the family now live.
“Oxford is close to home and I do love to be close to home, which is a weird thing to say considering I’m always touring!
“It is great to be doing something different. It’s a very challenging role for me. I didn’t know much about the piece leading up to doing it and I learnt it while still doing Priscilla.
“It’s only now coming to life in my head. It’s exhausting.
“I didn’t think it was going to be so tiring but Ian Talbot, our director, keeps pushing the energy levels and rightly so.
“These sort of old fashioned pieces, if they don’t move along they can get a bit sleepy so you have just got to keep powering through stuff.
“This is a very different role to Priscilla! I like to be challenged and go outside my comfort zone.
“It’s a classic musical and old fashioned but there’s a market for it. I don’t think we’re trying to pretend it’s not.
“Frank is written with a certain amount of arrogance and bravado but he gradually falls in love. I try not to go too deep into it but the character tends to evolve as the tour progresses.
“My character is the tough one and Annie falls for him – and then the roles reverse and he becomes the puppy dog, chasing her. Opposites attract.”
Annie is creaking with age but it has been given a cocktail of Botox and Viagra to dazzle modern audiences with a fun-filled pistol-packing story and some great standards.
Its pedigree is first class. Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin and based on a book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields.
AGYG first hit Broadway in 1946 and has been whooping it up on stage and screen ever since.
There’s still a lot of life in the old girl.
Jonathan Wilkes will play some dates instead of Jason.
Annie Get Your Gun runs at the New Theatre Oxford from June 24-28.
A full interview with co-stars Norman Pace and Emma Williams will appear on the Stage Review website Friday, June 20.
Further tour dates:
17 – 21 June – Edinburgh Playhouse
24 – 28 June – Oxford New Theatre
1 July – 5 July – Birmingham Alexandra New Theatre
15 – 19 July – Churchill Theatre, Bromley
22 – 26 July – Aylesbury Waterside Theatre
29 July – 2 August – Malvern Festival Theatre
5 August – 9 August – Liverpool Empire
12 August – 16 August – New Victoria Theatre, Woking
19 August – 23 August – Bournemouth Pavilion Theatre
26 August – 30 August – Brighton Theatre Royal
2 September – 6 September – Glasgow Theatre Royal
9 September – 13 September – Wimbledon New Theatre
16 September – 20 September – His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen
30 September – 4 October – Torquay Princess Theatre
To give you a taster: