Jodie Prenger performed extensively on the cabaret and musical circuit before she rose to fame via the BBC search for a Nancy to perform in the West End revival of Oliver! The public voted her as their winner and she hasn’t looked back. As well as starring in various musicals, she is a regular presenter on Radio 2 and has made numerous television appearances. Last year, Jodie took the title role in The Watermill’s production of Calamity Jane. The production then went on a UK tour and was seen by 220,000 people. At the end of January, Jodie returns to The Watermill to perform in Tell Me On a Sunday, by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black, before a nationwide tour.
When did you first realise you loved musical theatre?
When I was about six or seven my nan took me to see 42nd Street and I just sat there mesmerised by the glitz and glamour of it all. I am still awestruck when I go to see musicals now and just want to join in. It’s just such a lovely joyful thing and I feel so lucky to be doing it for a living.
Did you enjoy performing at school?
Actually, much as I enjoyed my school days, I was a frustrated performer. It was an all-girls school and I always got the male roles, so I was forever putting on a moustache and never got to glam up. I left school to do a B-tech because I was desperate to get the female roles. Before Nancy, I was a warm-up act – a bit of comedy, a bit of singing – for the likes of Ken Dodd, Les Dawson and Joe Pasquale. I also had a great time working on the cruise ships in the big Disney shows – Mrs Potts, the fairy godmother – you name it I’ve played it.
What was your career plan B?
I love doing nails so I’d probably have been a nail technician. I was brought up just to always love doing whatever I did, so I guess I’d have been happy in a salon somewhere. Alternatively I could have opened an animal sanctuary and take in anything nobody else wanted, from llamas with alopecia to two-legged goats. I used to have a rabbit with one ear, which we called Pardon, and I adored him. So being surrounded by animals would be a dream. I have actually just bought a smallholding and I think my fiancé is a bit worried about what I’m going to put in there. That’s one of the things I love about The Watermill – all the ducks and geese wondering around the beautiful setting. It’s such a unique place, and such a treat staying there – I’m very glad to be going back. In fact Bear, Hedda’s dog (former executive director, Hedda Beeby) used to come and sit outside my room every morning because he knew I had a supply of chew sticks for him.
What do you miss most when you are touring?
I miss home, obviously, but actually I just love working and I get very easily bored, so I love always being on the go. The upside is that I get to see so many different part of the country and I get to see my family as well, when we are performing in the north.
Since your success following Nancy, what sort of doors has it opened for you?
Well I never thought I’d be saying I’ll be appearing in two episodes of Casualty over Christmas for a start. When I got the call I was like – oh yes – and then they asked if I was scared of heights and I said no, no problem. But then I had to do my own stunts. There’s a moment when I have to land from a height and believe me the terror in my eyes is genuine. Have you got a favourite musical role? There’s a great musical called Call Me Madam, made famous by Ethel Merman, which I would love to do. And if Imelda Staunton ever wanted a night off from Gypsy just give me a call. I love all those big alpha female parts. The strong woman who can belt out a big tune.
How long is preparation time for Tell Me on a Sunday?
We have about two week’s rehearsal time, although I have already recorded the DVD.
Has Andrew Lloyd Webber been involved in the production?
Absolutely. Both Andrew and Don Black (the lyricist) were at the recording and have made some changes to the music. There’s a new song in there as well. They are very hands-on and have been a great support. As it’s a one-woman show it is a bit daunting but I love the venue, the music is fantastic and it’s such an emotional rollercoaster of a part. This poor girl is really put through the mill but she belts out some cracking tunes – I love Sheldon Bloom and of course Tell Me on a Sunday – and it’s got that retro feel of the 80s – my favourite era, particularly the biscuits. Biscuits? Yes, I love 80s biscuits – you can always win me over with a packet of Jammie Dodgers or Pink Wafers.
How does performing at the Watermill differ from the West End?
I love The Watermill. The surroundings are beautiful as I’ve already said and it is so relaxing there and the people are so friendly and welcoming. Working in a small theatre like that gives it a more intimate feel – literally because you are closer to the audience and I love that.
Tell Me on a Sunday is at The Watermill, Bagnor, from January 28 – February 20. It then goes on tour until June 2016. www.watermill.org.uk