SHARP shootin’ Calamity Jane is blowing into Wearside next week. Katy Wheeler speaks to leading lady Jodie Prenger about pulling on the famous cowboy boots.
If ever there was someone capable of playing larger-than-life gun slinger Calamity Jane it’s Jodie Prenger.
Effervescent with enthusiasm, she’s pulling all the punches to make sure there’s no tumbleweed blowing through the theatre for this lively revival of a Wild West classic.
Spawned from the 1950s film starring Doris Day, the stage version aims to maintain all the rootin’ tootin’ action of the original.
Jodie is no stranger to playing strong females after rising to fame when she won the role of Nancy in Cameron Mackintosh’s West End production of Oliver! through the BBC television series I’d Do Anything.
“I’m very comfortable in this role. Especially wearing the buckskins, they are the way forward in every day life,” joked the actress about donning the distinctive fringed leather outfit of Calamity Jane.
The show tells the story of Calamity Jane who 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 for Calamity, as everyone in town favours the new girl and she struggles to keep her jealousy and pride in check. It takes her long-standing enemy Wild Bill Hickok to make her see sense.
The Oscar-nominated score includes The Black Hills of Dakota, The Deadwood Stage (Whip-Crack-Away), Just Blew in from the Windy City and the award-winning song Secret Love.
Jodie is joined on stage by former Emmerdale actor Tom Lister as Wild Bill Hickok, Alex Hammond as Danny and Phoebe Street as Katie Brown.
And she says fans of the original won’t be disappointed.
“I know it sounds corny but I was so excited when I found out they were coming back out on tour with Calamity Jane” said Jodie. “They say ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,’ and it’s faithful to the original.”
She added: “Calamity Jane is a true life character, but I was nervous about stepping into Doris Day’s shoes, they are big shoes to fill.
“But I’m so grateful as to how much people have warmed to the show. It’s got a really strong cast, who are stupidly talented, and the direction and choreography is great. All they’ve done is given the show a polish.
“I’d seen the film many times growing up, but I didn’t watch it again when we were rehearsing as you want that freshness, but you can definitely see a vein of the film coming through.”
Jodie says musicals which transport people to the Wild West seem to hold a particular appeal.
“People can’t believe the range of ages Calamity appeals to. You have little boys dressed as cowboys in the audience, right up to 100-year-olds.
“They’re songs everyone has grown up with,” she said.
“That revival of Wild West musicals started with the National Theatre doing Oklahoma.
“I think it’s to do with the rousing music, the hoedown, that it lends itself to audience participation. People really commit to the songs and singing along. It has a great feelgood factor. If I could afford to pay for everyone to come along and see it I would.”
Jodie says that feelgood factor is proving infectious.
“It only started as a six month tour, but the ticket sales and response to it has been so good that they’ve extended it to 14 months,” she said.
“You do notice a difference in the audiences when you’re touring.
“There are some who clap along and others who are hoedowning in the aisles. Some people have been to see it ten times they love it so much.”
This is the latest high-profile theatre role for Jodie who has recently starred in the National Theatre’s production of One Man Two Guvnors, both in the West End and on tour, and as Lady of the Lake in Spamalot.
She says winning the role of Nancy in Oliver back in 2008 was a dream in itself.
“When I got Nancy I thought ‘that’s it I’ve fulfilled my dream.’”she said.
“I still can’t thank the people who voted for me enough, for putting up with me every week.
“I’ve been really lucky to go from Nancy to Spamalot to One Man Two Guvnors, it’s been great to stretch myself. I have a few things in the pipeline but my career’s like a box of Liquorice Allsorts, I never know what I’m going to pull out next.”
•Calamity Jane is at Sunderland Empire from Tuesday until March 7. Tickets are available in person at the Box Office from £15 or from £17.90 from the Ticket Centre on Tel. 0844 871 3022 or online at www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland.