Jodie Prenger talks Calamity Jane

Jodie Prenger as Calamity Jane. Picture: Manuel Harlan
Jodie Prenger as Calamity Jane. Picture: Manuel Harlan
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IT takes Jodie Prenger 15 minutes to get into her costume for Calamity Jane, blame the corset. And, as her dresser enters her dressing room, the time to transform into the sharp-shooting heroine of the smash hit musical has arrived.

Rewind a few minutes, and the 35-year-old who made her name winning the role of Nancy in the West End production of Oliver! through the BBC TV show I’d Do Anything, is animatedly excited.

“Let me tell you, dancing around on stage in buckskins is a feat in itself. Especially when it’s boiling hot weather. Oh my God! You know when Pavarotti needed a towel by the side of the stage..? It was like that.

“With the music and the energy from the rest of the cast, you can’t not up your game and give everything. It’s that kind of show. It makes you go, ‘Come on! Bring it on!’”

She confesses, “I’m that excited about it I haven’t been able to sleep for the past couple of days.”

Calamity Jane is a character the actress has dreamed of playing since watching Doris Day in the movie version, and with good reason.

“I’ve always adored Doris Day, to the point where I probably want to have her adopt me as a grandchild,” she laughs. “I love the songs – Secret Love has always been one of my favourites. I sang it in the clubs for years. So to get to perform that and songs like Windy City, The Black Hills of Dakota... there are even songs that were written for the film but never made the cut, and they are brilliant. Showstoppers.”

For those unfamiliar with the piece, Calamity Jane can outrun and outshoot any man in Deadwood. Hard, boastful and desperate to impress, she travels to Chicago to recruit a star, Adelaide Adams, for the Deadwood Stage.

But things don’t go too smoothly, as everyone in town favours the new girl and Calamity struggles to keep her jealousy in check.

It takes her long-standing enemy Wild Bill Hickok to make her see sense, and realise her Secret Love...

It’s a dream role for the Blackpool lass who recently starred in the National Theatre’s hit production of One Man, Two Guvnors and toured as The Lady of the Lake in Spamalot.

“Spamalot was brilliant. It was so much fun, but I have never done anything like Calamity Jane,” the star explains.

“She was a real person, her name was Martha Jane Canary, which is a beautiful name, it’s a shame they didn’t use it really, but she was the originator of girl power.”

Canary, who was born in 1852, and died in 1903, was a frontiers woman and professional scout.

“I read her diary. Being a woman back then, using a gun and wearing buckskins... well, she was fighting a battle from the start, but she never gave up,” continues Prenger, “However, regardless of how hard she had to be, there was a real soft side to her.”

The production, which boasts an Oscar-nominated score, tours to the Playhouse next week, where audiences will find Prenger playing opposite Tom Lister, best known as Carl King in Emmerdale, as Wild Bill Hickok.

Like many modern musicals, the production is cast from actor/musicians, each character playing their instrument to provide the orchestration as the action unfolds.

“All these clever b*****s, these actor/musos, I swear they’re not normal,” she jokes. “But it’s great because in some shows you don’t get that kind of orchestral sound.

“In this, because everyone plays an instrument, it sounds like a cinema sound track.”

And Prenger has her part to play in the score too.

“I’m going to shock you here,” she chirrups, “I play the spoons... the uke... and the piano. It’s a challenge and I relish that. I’ve loved every minute of it.

“The cast are just not just lovely, they are brilliant at what they do and that is half the battle... when you get such a love bunch together.”

Another challenge she had to take on was learning to crack a whip.

“Eh, listen, I’m not going to lie. I’m quite fair at the old whip... although Tom and I had to go into training to get the knack to making it crack,” she admits.

It’s all a million miles away from the day she signed up to do the talent search that gave her that first break back in 2008.

“Never, ever, ever, in a month of Sundays could I have imagined that doing a TV show could lead to all this... me cracking a whip and playing the spoons,” she grins.

“It’s what I’ve always dreamt of and it doesn’t feel like work.”

Calamity Jane, Playhouse, Greenside Place, next Tuesday-Saturday, 7.30pm (matinee 2.30pm), £12.90-£38.90, 08448-717 627