With her latest role as Calamity Jane, Jodie Prenger has cemented her reputation as a performer of strong female roles.
She rose to prominence after winning I’d Do Anything in 2008, a talent search helmed by Andrew Lloyd Webber to find Nancy for a new production of Oliver!.
After more than a year in the West End, Jodie moved on to other parts, such as the Lady In The Lake in the UK tour of Spamalot.
Now, the Lancastrian has stepped into the rawhide boots of the original frontierswoman in Calamity Jane.
When asked how she gets into character, Jodie slips into a southern accent.
‘Well I tell you somethin’, I just start talkin’ like this,’ she says, before a bout of her infectous laughter.
‘She’s feisty, she’s the original girl power. My nan was like that – she was the most wonderful, warm person but she was Sergeant Major in an apron. She worked in a B&B in Blackpool.
‘I come from a line of strong women so I can take on the part.’
While the historical figure of Calamity Jane remains a mystery, she became a cultural icon with the 1953 musical film loosely based on her life.
‘The film was written for Doris Day, who I absolutely love. I was really scared of stepping into her shoes.
She’s feisty, she’s the original girl powerJodie Prenger
‘So Doris, if you’re reading this, I hope I do you justice.’
The stage musical, based on the Hollywood film, tells the tale of Jane’s efforts to recruit star Adelaide Adams to perform in the town of Deadwood, South Dakota.
When everyone favours the new girl she becomes jealous, but old rival Wild Bill Hickok makes her see sense.
The show features songs from the film’s soundtrack, including I Can Do Without You and the Oscar-winning song Secret Love.
Jodie says: ‘That’s the thing about musicals – you know the music and you love the music.
‘The other night, audiences were all up dancing and hoedowning, it’s great.’
Jodie says audiences have fallen for the show’s charm.
‘We’ll start with a little tickle of The Black Hills Of Dakota and you hear this warm laughter from the audience like “I know that one”.
‘Tickle... God, I sound like Ken Dodd,’ she jokes.
This is a million miles from her stage beginnings, when she had to win over the crowd.
‘I used to be support for Joe Pasquale, Ken Dodd, Jimmy Cricket, Frank Carson – all the greats. I learned an awful lot,’ says Jodie.
‘I vividly remember one of the first venues, which was a working men’s club in the north.
‘I was so petrified and there was my dad setting up all my PA gear. I had just been and bought it, so it was all spanking new and I didn’t know how to work it.
‘I remember saying to the crowd “does anyone like their musicals” and they all said “no!”.
‘I carried on anyway, and started singing Don’t Cry For Me Argentina from Evita. I did it because I loved it.
‘I’m not one of these stage people who are like “oh, darling, did you see him direct this?”
‘If I like what I see, I like what I see.’
It is this kind of down-to-earth honesty that led to her success on I’d Do Anything.
‘I liked singing Send In The Clowns on the show.
‘It was very nice of Andrew to let me show a different side of myself. I am a positive bubbly person, but there are days when I have my face on the floor and I can’t be bothered, like everyone.
‘I can do the big Oom Pah Pah’s, but As Long As He Needs Me is not a song where you can whip out the jazz hands and do an eight-bar tap number in the middle.’
When asked about winning, Jodie is characteristically humble.
‘What went through my head was “prepare your face Jodie, you’re not going to win. You’ll pull through, please don’t cry.”
‘I’m not playing the simple girl from the county fair, but when my name was announceed it did not sink in whatsoever. It still hasn’t to be fair.’
Jodie still feels the same as before she became famous, despite becoming a TV personality and building a loyal following.
‘I don’t like to call them fans,’ she says. ‘In fact I don’t like calling myself a celebrity in all fairness because you don’t change. I just think it is great to be appreciated, and god love ‘em for putting up with me.’
Part of Jodie’s appeal is that she is a role model for women with curves. Before I’d Do Anything, Jodie won the second series of The Biggest Loser in 2006. She went from a size 22 to a size 10, before settling at a size 14. Jodie insists that the world of theatre is not sizeist.
‘I think in this business there is a part for every shape, size, colour and creed. So to say it is sizeist does not really comply with that.
‘If you are someone who plays Cosette you are not going to play Madame Thénardier, and someone who plays Mrs Bumble is not going to play Nancy. There is a part for everyone.
‘There are people out there who want to suck on a lettuce leaf – and if that rocks their world, let it rock their world – but sweetheart, add a bit of champagne and dark chocolate, it’s not going to steer you wrong.’
In the future, Jodie says she would love to play Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard and Mama Rose in Gypsy.
‘I thought I would do Oliver! and that would be it, never thinking that I would still be given these phenomenal opportunities to be part of shows like Calamity Jane.
‘I sound like I’m giving a Miss World speech but it really is very good.’
Calamity Jane is at the Kings Theatre in Southsea from Tuesday, March 31 to Saturday, April 4. Tickets: £25-34, performance times vary.
Call (023) 9282 8282 or visit kingsportsmouth.co.uk