Last week I had the privilege once again to chat to one of the nicest ladies in Show business, Jodie Prenger. When I last interviewed her she was just starting a tour of Calamity Jane playing the title role (review here), now she is starting a tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black’s Tell Me On a Sunday which will be playing at various venues in the South East starting with The Hawth in Crawley on Thursday.
Tell Me On A Sunday charts the romantic misadventures of a young English girl in New York. Brimming with optimism, she seeks success and love. But as she weaves her way through the maze of the city and her own anxieties, frustrations and heartaches she begins to wonder whether she’s been looking for love in all the wrong places. This iconic musical, with a wonderful original score, features the chart-topping Take That Look Off Your Face and title track Tell Me on A Sunday.
Sammi : So how did you enjoy Calamity Jane, it was such a long tour?
Jodie : It was so great and the audiences were fantastic. It went on so long because it was so popular and successful. We had a really great time and really enjoyed it.
I saw the show a couple of times and I thought the role was well suited for you and I was fascinated by the whip-cracking.
It was a great role but by the end of the tour the buckskins could walk on their own, I can tell you that for nothing!
We had full training by a guy who held the world record for lassoing – he was amazing! There is a real knack to it. Believe me, there is nothing more shameful than being on stage and not being able to make your whip crack 😀
Since Calamity Jane you have played Miss Hannigan in the latest production of Annie when it was in Oxford.
Yes the roles of Calamity and Miss Hannigan couldn’t be more different. I feel as though I am schizophrenic sometimes. Again, it was a great show with another great company, and Annie has kids and dogs in as well which is a bonus.
Such big iconic roles with big casts and now it is something completely different… a one-woman show, how do you feel about that?
Yes, we have just done three weeks at the Watermill in Newbury and what a brilliant way to start the show, it is going extremely well, we have totally sold out in some venues and only have limited seats in many other venues.
When I was asked whether I wanted to do Tell Me On A Sunday, there was no hesitation, of course it was a yes, it is a massive role. I think every leading lady would like to play this role at some point in their career and to do it would be a massive tick.
But then you think – oh gosh, it will be just ME on stage…and nobody else, so it was very daunting to go into it.
No nothing! I have virtually had to retrain my voice to do this show. I am so used to doing big belting songs such as As Long As He Needs Me from Oliver and Diva’s Lament in Spamalot but this show has a huge variety of songs.
She also really bares her soul, it is tough to go through every night because you genuinely crumble, she is in tears, she is a mess, it is gut wrenching, but at the same time it is a lovely joyous little piece. It is just beautiful music, it is Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black at their best.
Andrew and Don have both been really involved as well which has been lovely. They have both been in to rehearsals they have written new bits of music and new lyrics.
If you know Tell Me On A Sunday really well you may hear the bits that have changed, but now it really flows. It is just a quaint period piece that is very strong, it is one of those journeys that all us women have had, we have all met these type of men in our lives, but sadly Emma, the girl I play, just meets one after another.
Your character has a name now – years ago she was just known as ‘the girl’.
It was decided that she would be called Emma and I do think it is very important she has a name. Also you learn through the songs who Joe and Sheldon Bloom are but I’ve also named the other two guys as well, the younger one is now Brad after Brad Pitt and I’ve named the older married guy George after George Clooney. When you are alone on stage you have to make everything work for you and the audience and this really works.
Do you find you can relate to Emma?
Of course, she is a really nice girl, she is a fighter, it is set in the late 70s / early 80s when it was a massive feat to go over to America when you didn’t have any of this ‘bookface’ or ‘facecloth’ or ‘skip or skype’ she literally just went over which would have been hard. This is why it is so romantic when she writes letters home to her Mum and Dad. In other productions they have done emails and things like that but this production has been really stripped back and I think it is for the better because the songs are so beautiful and the stories are so real and that is what the show is focusing on.
The last time I saw Tell Me On A Sunday was in the 1980s when it was coupled together with variations to create Song and Dance. Obviously that isn’t the case now.
I don’t think the world is ready for me in a one piece lycra suit like Wayne Sleep, I wouldn’t do that to people.
The first act is Tell Me On A Sunday which takes about an hour then we have an interval, the second act includes a couple more songs from me and it also includes a question and answers session with questions from the audience which they submit in advance by writing on a card or tweeting.
What sort of questions are you asked?
We have questions all sorts of questions, about me, about the show, about Andrew Lloyd Webber & Don Black, there was one guy who asked my whether I would go on a skiing trip with him!
It’s great, as you know I can talk the hind legs off a donkey.
The same questions always come up and then of course there are wonderful ones, last week it was lovely, we actually had someone propose to his girlfriend (now fiancée) during the session. There was a question the other night – ‘how do you lubricate your voice?’ Well My mind went straight to where it shouldn’t and I couldn’t stop chuckling. It is great to be able to answer people’s questions.
We also have a lot of students from performing arts schools and I really like answering their questions. I have always been a people person, usually I don’t get chance to speak to the audience except for the ones who come to stage door.
Tell me about the production company.
What can I say? They really are all lovely. I am working with the same musical supervisor as I did in Calamity Jane, Cathy Jayes, she has just done ‘The Color Purple’ and they now have a number two hit in the American charts, which is brilliant.
Paul Foster the director is absolutely amazing. It is phenomenal what Howard Hudson (In the Heights) has done with lighting. David Woodhead the set and costume designer has been brilliant at commanding the stage, we have this marvellous set that just pops up but looks and feels like it has been there forever. Matt Flint who has done all the movement and Tom Marshall all the sound.
They have been wonderful.
You are at so many venues, many of which are only for one night, how do you think that you will cope with the stress of moving between them all when you haven’t got that ensemble camaraderie?
I toured twice with the lovely John Barrowman, and it really isn’t that bad. I think that in this industry, you just accept it for what it is. It is quite nice to keep it at a pace like that because you never get complacent – you just have to keep going.
What’s next Jodie?
I am not allowed to say! I am in talks for TV and stage work but I cannot talk about anything.
Are there anymore iconic roles you would like to play in the future?
Without a doubt in years to come I would love to play Mama Rose. I would love to go and see Hello Dolly with Bette Midler, I think she will be fabulous.
I really think Jodie will be fabulous herself in Tell Me On A Sunday. Why not pop along and see her play ‘Emma’ in this Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black masterpiece and have to chance of asking her a question about the show.
14th March 2016 Orchard Theatre, Dartford
17th March 2016 The Hawth, Crawley
10th April 2016 Theatre Royal Brighton
15th April 2016 Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells
8th June 2016 Churchill Theatre, Bromley
For all other tour dates click here.
Jodie Prenger was interviewed by Sammi O’Neill
Photos ©Tristram Kenton