HE'S the US star of TJ Hooker and Grease 2.

But he's found a real home on stage in the UK.

Britain really knows how to do musical theatre, Adrian Zmed tells Lorelei Reddin as he arrives in Southampton making his UK stage debut in the tour of La Cage aux Folles.

"There's a huge, huge difference in terms of the audiences and how theatre is supported here compared to in the US. I can name on one hand all the national tours in America right now and yet, here you are, in a country the size of Florida and there are 25 national tours right now and the support is very very strong. It's just a completely different perception and atmosphere.

"People who love theatre go to Broadway and other live shows are few and far between even in big cities. Here you have packed houses and audiences eager to see shows.

"I'm loving it. Nothing else can compare to live theatre and that experience. It's a wonderful piece of art at one moment in time. I appreciate that so much more than somebody on a reality show yelling at somebody else. I think in the UK you still respect that, but it's been lost in the US. That's just my take on it.

"Being here is such a joy. We celebrated 100 performances last week and we've had 100 standing ovations, so we must be doing something right."

The first ever UK tour of the Tony and Olivier award winning musical opens at Mayflower Theatre on Wednesday.

It follows the story of Georges, played by Zmed, the manager of a Saint Tropez nightclub, and his partner, Albin, played by Eastenders actor and Over The Rainbow judge John Partridge, a drag artiste and the club’s star attraction.

They live an idyllic existence in the south of France but behind the curtains of this sparkling extravaganza, all may be about to change when Georges’ son Jean-Michel announces his engagement to the daughter of a notorious right-wing politician determined to close down the local colourful night-life. Drama and hilarity ensue when a meeting of the parents forces them to cover up their vibrant lifestyle.

"The biggest message is love in all its forms," muses Adrian, who co-starred with William Shatner as Officer Vince Romano in the 80s hit TV show TJ Hooker, which ran for 90 episodes over five years.

"Love in each and every form. love of your spouse, love of your family, your children, your parents. Love, friendship and tolerance.

"It's brilliantly done. There's a reason it won Best Musical. It really takes you on a rollercoaster ride and I'm even talking about the Wednesday and Thursday matinees. There's a bunch of old ladies and within the first five minutes they're loving it and by the end they're up dancing on their walkers!"

Adrian, also well known for playing Johnny Nogerelli in the cult classic film Grease 2 and starring alongside Tom Hanks in comedy Bachelor Party, has been touring the country on his two days off each week.

He's planning to get to know Southampton, the New Forest and the coast before his Mayflower stint starts.

"I'm having the time of my life getting to know your wonderful country. Each week I hire a car and drive from place to place. Every city is a new adventure as I've never been to the UK before.

"It's fascinating how the way I say a line will get a different reaction in York and Woking. That's the exciting thing about live theatre, you do a different performance in each city. It's also the scariest thing about being an actor!"

There are some things Adrian misses about home though.

"My wife, my son, my dog, that's about it," he laughs. "Oh and my sports teams."

A keen sportsman who had an American football scholarship before breaking his leg badly as a youth player, Adrian is taking an interest in rugby and Everton, the Premier League team which has his producer Bill Kenwright as its chairman.

He recently took a weekend break from the tour to hot foot it back to Los Angeles for a matter of hours to reprise his team captaincy in the comeback of Battle of the Network Stars, the 80s US TV smash hit similar to It's a Knockout.

So expect plenty of energy in his high-kicking, glittering, feel good appearance on stage in Southampton.

La Cage aux Folles runs until Saturday June 24.

Tickets: 023 8071 1811 or mayflower.org.uk