With a showbiz lineage from both of his parents who worked in the entertainment industry (TV presenter Sue and actor Terry), Jason Donovan followed a similar path to success as Kylie Minogue with roles in Skyways and his pairing as Scott Robinson with Minogue’s Charlene, the loved- up couple in Neighbours, and at the time, in real life. Both Kylie and Jason would become the new stars in the Stock, Aitken Waterman pop firmament.
Pete Waterman was originally reserved about recording Donovan, as he felt that he had serious problems maintaining pitch, which was ultimately corrected after an operation that removed a blockage between his ears and his sinuses
Waterman gave him a song that had been rejected by Rick Astley – Nothing Can Divide Us – which went to #3 locally and #5 in the UK, Astley was dropped from the SAW roster after this, hell hath no fury like a tunesmith scorned, and Astley has had few hits since and been forced to rely on the dubious online fad of “rickrolling” for publicity for many years.
Minogue and Donovan then released their duet Especially for You which was a huge Xmas hit in 1988, #2 in Aust and #1 in the UK, so the time was right for Donovan to go solo again and to ride the wave of popularity he was enjoying, with another SAW composition. Too Many Broken Hearts, another Rick Astley sound-a-like tune, became Jason’s second UK #1 and a top ten hit in Aust, the lyrics were certainly prescient – “I’ll be hurt, I’ll be hurt if you walk away…” as Kylie Minogue was moving away from the clean-cut Jason, to the worldly charms of Michael Hutchence.
Donovan released several cover versions of songs in 1989 -90 including Bryan Hyland’s hit Sealed With a Kiss (#8 Aust and #1 UK) which deprived Cliff Richard from reaching the top with his 100th single, The Best of Me, which stalled at #2.
Donovan had further top ten hits in the UK with Every Day (I Love You More). When You Come Back to Me, Sade’s Hang on To Your Love and a cover of the Cascades Rhythm of the Rain, but these were all minor hits in Australia.
In 1991 he was offered the lead role of Joseph in the West End production of Lloyd-Weber and Rice’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, SAW released him from his contract with PWL and he signed on with Andrew Lloyd-Weber’s Really Useful Group, thereafter he moved solidly into musical theatre throughout the nineties.
Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was a musical with lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, about the “coat of many colors“ story of Joseph from the Bible‘s Book of Genesis, this was the first Lloyd- Webber/Rice musical to be performed publicly; their first effort, The Likes of Us, written in 1965, was never commercially produced.
The narrative is based on the Biblical story of Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob, a dreamer and visionary who is his father’s favorite, Jacob gives him a beautiful “coat of many colors” which annoys his brothers, who become even more incensed after Joseph predicts that his future will include ruling over the other eleven brothers. The brothers sell Joseph into slavery and fake his death however Joseph survives to flourish as the trusted adviser of the Pharaoh of Egypt. After he correctly interprets the Pharaoh’s dreams, and having risen to a position of great power, he forgives his brothers who had banished him, and brings his family to Egypt to share his life there.
Originally performed on the West End in 1973, and Broadway in 1981, it had been successfully revived several times in the intervening years, with the role of Joseph being performed by singer/actor Gary Bond, Paul Jones (ex-Manfred Mann) and David Cassidy (ex-Partridge Family).
Any Dream Will Do features in the first act of the show, in 1991 Jason Donovan appeared in the starring role of Joseph, and sang fourteen of the 22 songs in that production, after the ’91 London cast version of the album went to #1 in the UK, nobody was surprised. The show had been running almost continuously round the world for almost twenty years and had been a rolled gold smash hit on the West End and Broadway. The same fans that flocked to Dreamcoat were just as supportive of the Lloyd-Weber/Rice’s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, which they saw as the evangelical sequel.
Tim Rice did not believe that the song had standalone hit potential, that it was essentially a show tune, and as such was only released as part of the studio album of the soundtrack, although Any Dream Will Do had charted in Australia for ageing UK crooner Max Bygraves (#15 in ’73) and was also a #1 hit in Ireland for Joe Cuddy as well.
When ultimately released as a single by Donovan the song hit #1 on the UK charts but did not chart in Australia, the song has a mellow but memorable melody and although the lyrics are unconvincing, Dreamcoat was hugely successful, and when it closed in 1994, it held the record for the longest -running show at the London Palladium.
Donovan would subsequently survive a series of militant gay tabloid attacks by The Face magazine, and ultimately emerge from a period of cocaine addiction, to enjoy a celebrated career in musicals in the future, including starring roles in Camelot, The Rocky Horror Show and Chitty Chitty, Bang Bang.
The 2019 London production of Dreamcoat will again feature Jason Donovan, this time in the more mature role of the Pharaoh, and he will also return to Australia later this year to play the starring role of Billy Flynn, in the Melbourne production of the musical Chicago.