Midlands Zone chats to former Strictly winner Joe McFadden as he swaps the ballroom for the beaten track in Priscilla Queen Of The Desert - which stops off in Birmingham’s Gay Village next month!
Were you a fan of the original movie of Priscilla, Joe?
I really loved it. I think it’s something everyone has an awareness of. I actually saw the production at the Palace in London years ago. It’s such a vibrant show. I remember being blown away by it, and especially by how great the music was.
Why do you think the story has become such a cult classic?
There are loads of things that really work; so many fantastic songs in there, as well as it being a great story. It was way ahead of its time. I think it’s one of the first pieces of drama that was centred around a trans person, and which was also discussing things like gay parenting. It’s completely timeless as well as being super-entertaining and joyous. It has all the best elements of a great musical.
For anyone who hasn’t seen it before, what can audiences expect from the show?
It starts with my character, Tick. He’s working in Sydney in a drag bar, enjoying his life, when he gets a call from his past. We find out he has a wife, who asks him to come and do a show at Alice Springs and spend some time with his son, who he hasn’t had much contact with. He decides to rope in a couple of his pals and travel across Australia in a big bus. His friends think they’re just going to do the show and have no idea why they’re really going, or even that he has a child! The relationship between the three friends really drives the story, as they find out he has this whole other life they had no idea about. They get themselves into some quite dangerous situations as they travel across the Outback and meet some interesting characters. And they all have big decisions to make about being themselves or conforming.
How will the road-trip element of the show work on stage?
We’re doing some really big venues and then some which are tiny, so it’s going to be really inventive. That’s what’s so exciting; because it’s a brand new production, it’s a whole new design. I think it’s going to be really interesting, and different perhaps from the show that people might have seen before.
The conversation about drag queen culture and trans identities has moved on slightly since the film was released. Do you think the show will seem different because of that?
You know, that’s the thing with these issues, they’re still around and they’re still having to be dealt with. Sadly, we don’t live in a world where people aren’t still fighting these battles, so that sort of makes it still timely and still relevant. People are slightly more used to seeing things like drag, but a lot of the serious issues are still around sadly.
What’s it like having Jason Donovan as your producer?
He’s so knowledgeable about the show. He’s played it in the West End and on tour, and just having his input is brilliant. I’m hugely in debt to him in terms of my landing the part because he really championed me. To have his seal of approval really means a lot. He’s been nothing but complimentary and encouraging. It’s been fantastic.
Will you be getting tips from him about how he approached it?
I absolutely will be! He said that being on stage and playing the character is the fun bit; it’s when you come off stage and you have these huge, really fast costume changes to do that it can get tricky. Also, looking after your back in the huge heels! He advised me to get used to walking in the heels - even wearing them in the photo-shoot was tricky!
Do you have any previous experience of wearing heels?
Absolutely none whatsoever! I’ve walked around inside to get used to them. I was a little bit like Bambi to start with, but I’m slowly getting better. It’s difficult. though. I don’t know how anyone could do it all day!
Are you looking forward to that side of it?
I really enjoy when you put on a costume and it takes you far away from who you really are. I think it’s quite freeing as an actor to be completely different, and it really helps you get into character. You get a chance to be someone else, trying to see the world from somebody else’s perspective.
What do you think of your costumes?
We do have some quite special outfits to wear; they’re really colourful and really sparkly. But having done Strictly a couple of years ago, all of that stuff isn’t alien to me anymore, so I’m really looking forward to getting into the costumes.
Do you think Strictly helped in landing this part?
It’s certainly helped me get my head around doing it. I’ve been waiting for the chance to use the bit of dance training that I did. I really wanted to get to use it at some point, but it absolutely had to be with the right thing, and when this came along it felt like a perfect fit.
Strictly must be good training for a musical - having to learn all those routines very quickly...
Absolutely. We only have three weeks to put on the show, so I’m imagining it will be quite similar - learning routines in a very short space of time. I’m slightly nervous, but nerves are good!
Priscilla is known for its fun soundtrack. Are you a fan of busting out some moves to the old disco classics?
Definitely! There are such great songs in the show, and so many that you can’t help but tap your toes to and be moved by. And that’s the thing I remember most about seeing the musical. I remember I was so worried about seeing it because I’d enjoyed the film so much, but it really works because of those fantastic songs. We’ve actually got some new ones in there this time that I’m sure people will go mad for.
Are there any numbers that you’re particularly looking forward to?
I really love McArthur Park. And Always On My Mind, which is the song that Tick sings to his son - that really sticks in my mind from the West End show. I also love We Belong; the three main characters do it together, and it really unifies them and reenforces their friendship.
How’s your Australian accent coming along?
I’m hoping it’s going to be as easy doing Australian as doing American, which I’ve done before. I grew up watching Neighbours and Home And Away, and I recently started putting them on again in the afternoon, just to get my ear in the accent. I’m slowly getting sucked back into it, so I feel like I’m regressing back to my teens watching Kylie and Jason! That’s going to be my new life, watching loads of Australian TV shows every day!
Do you ever get stage fright?
There are always nerves, and I think there should be - especially in the beginning - because it just shows that you care and you want the show to be as good as it can possibly be. Doing something like Strictly taught me that you can be nervous, but that you can use those nerves and channel them into your performance.
How does working in theatre compare to filming or doing TV?
It’s difficult to compare because doing something like Holby City, which I’d been in for four years, you get to know the character really well. That’s really lovely, but it was also one of my reasons for wanting to change things a bit. As an actor you shouldn’t allow yourself to get stale and play the same part for too long. I want to act and play loads of different roles, and I feel so fortunate that I get to do television, musicals, plays and things like Strictly. Things couldn’t be going much better.
And how do you find touring and life on the road?
It obviously has its hard times as you’re away from home, but I’ve really enjoyed seeing the country, going out and exploring each new place. It’s really interesting doing a show on tour because it keeps changing, depending on the personality of the audience,. They bring out really different energy levels. Even the theatre building itself sometimes completely changes the play. It keeps you on your toes, which I enjoy.
Priscilla Queen Of The Desert The Musical shows at Birmingham Hippodrome from Monday 13 to Saturday 18 April - get your tickets here.
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