PRISCILLA Queen of the Desert is a riot of outrageous costumes, wacky wigs, sky-high heels and disco floor-fillers.

The road trip musical - about two drag queens and a transgender woman heading for the Australian Outback in a battered old bus to put on the show of a lifetime - is a story of friendship, self discovery and acceptance.

With a parade of dance-floor classics, including It’s Raining Men, I Love The Nightlife and Finally, the West End and Broadway hit has been a girls-(and boys)-night-out musical for over two decades. But to Jason Donovan, who has a long association with it, it’s more than just a sassy, feelgood show.

“It’s not afraid of confronting issues in a brutal way,” says Jason. “It’s about misfits, tolerance, acceptance - themes that resonate today. It has relevance to the MeToo Movement.

“The characters in Priscilla feel safer in the city than in the Australian Outback, where smalltown prejudice is at its worst.”

Based on 1994 film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the show no jukebox musical, says Jason. “It’s a modern musical. The music is just one of the reasons why the show works. It’s one thing to find a catalogue of songs, and try and navigate a story around them. It’s quite another to tell such an honest story - often brutally so. I almost see it as a play with music.

“You’ve got disco anthems then, left of centre, songs like A Fine Romance and McArthur Park. It’s a camp celebration, a girls’ night out, and a show people embrace, but it’s not a fantasy. It’s rooted in reality.”

Jason, who has come a long way since he was in Neighbours as a teen, starred in the original West End production of Priscilla and on tour, playing Tick, a drag act who confronts his past when his wife asks him to do a show at Alice Springs and spend time with the son he barely knows. This time he’s co-producing the show, in a brand new production. “I know this show, my association with it goes back to the Nineties. It’s an Australian story. So it’s the perfect fit,” says Jason. “There’s history with it, but it’s been refreshed. We had to take that approach. I’ve got a real affection for the film but when they did the musical, they fine-tuned the story which is why it works so well. The opportunity to work on it as a producer was a no-brainer for me. It’s a piece I love, it’s of our time.”

Why does he think it has become such a cult classic on stage?”It has universal themes of overcoming prejudice and adversity. It tackles people wanting to be different and simultaneously the way we’re all really the same underneath.”

He says performing in the show was “exhausting”. “It was like a pop concert each night. Songs like I Will Survive and Finally are anthems. As an actor, musician and singer, you could twist in between the brilliance of the songs and the universality of the story and really get your teeth into it.”

Has our understanding of drag queen culture and trans identities shifted since Priscilla first hit the stage? “I think there’s more acceptance of diversity,” he says. “We’ve come a long way since the 80s. So on a level, yes, you’ve got things like Ru Paul’s Drag Race which is mainstream. I think the film and the musical have helped in that shift.”

Actor Joe McFadden, best known as PC Joe Mason in Heartbeat and Raf di Lucca in Holby City, plays Tick this time.

“Tick is close to my heart, I never got bored of doing this show, even after 450 performances, but I’m at a point in life where I’m taking a different turn,” says Jason. “This is the beginning of another journey. I still love performing, but I’m not 35 anymore and I don’t like being away from home for eight shows a week.”

Eight Priscilla shows a week means drag make-up, dancing in heels and quickfire costume changes. “It’s a good show for physiotherapists!” smiles Jason. “It’s a zippy pace, and those heels are demanding!”

l Priscilla Queen of the Desert at the Alhambra Monday to Saturday, September 21. Call (01274) 432000.

Emma Clayton