Jodie Prenger came to fame via the British reality TV show I’d Do Anything, securing the role of Nancy in Cameron Mackintosh's recent West End revival of Oliver! and going on to star as The Lady of the Lake in the U.K. tour of Spamalot. She currently is at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, making her straight play debut as the comically curvaceous Dolly in One Man, Two Guvnors, replacing Suzie Toase who has transferred with the production to Broadway. Broadway.com caught up with the ever-ebullient actress to find out about life away from musicals, meeting Liza Minnelli and what it’s like to make audiences laugh.
What made you want to make the leap from musicals to straight plays?
I went to watch it when the original cast came to the Lowry Theatre in Manchester [in the north of England], partly because I wanted to see my friend [Tony nominee] Tom Edden in it because we had been in Oliver! together. And you know what? I don’t think I had ever laughed so much while watching a show. I totally fell in love with it then and there, so here I am actually performing in it, with my high heels and my push-up bra.
What did you think about taking over the role of Dolly?
I first thought, “Oh good, a show where I can have a glass of wine afterwards and not worry about it” But you know, for those of us in England, the show is just so brilliantly British. It’s in the spirit of the Carry On movies and Benny Hill and comedies where, as they say, “the women are women and the men are scared.” And then it’s got this wonderful music [by Tony nominee Grant Olding], which sounds as if it’s been in the world for centuries!
It must be great to hear waves of laughter emanating every night from the house.
This show should be prescribed on the NHS [Britain’s National Health Service]! I find that I laugh at the audience laughing. Immediately in the first scene, you begin to get this response, which is just amazing for me, since I’d been first and foremost considered a singer because of Nancy and all that but had never thought of myself for anything like this.
How would you describe Dolly beyond the fact that she’s rather noticeably comely?
She absolutely is that! I think she’s a tart with a heart—a bit of a man-eater, isn’t she? There always seems to be something of that in the parts I play; I don’t know what it is, since that isn’t at all me. I’m the sort who’s in bed by 12 with my slippers and my iPad.
And you get that wonderful speech in the second act which references Margaret Thatcher, albeit several decades before the former Prime Minister came to power.
And now because of Meryl Streep, all our overseas audiences know who she is! What’s funny with that [section of the play] is that you can tell precisely what sort of audience you’ve got in. Sometimes, they sit there cheering, but I’ve also had a couple of people shouting, “Boo!”
It’s nice that you mention Tom Edden, since he has really taken New York by storm.
And it’s so well-deserved! He really is such a lovely, lovely fellow. It was fun in Oliver! because we always had a bit of a duet on “Oom-Pah-Pah.” What was extraordinary for him in One Man, Two Guvnors is that he would come out the stage door and no one would recognize him because he just looks so different from Alfie [the geriatric waiter he plays on stage]. I always think if an actor would ever like to have a double life, he should play Alfie; the same thing happens to Martin Barrass, who is doing the role with us now.
Have you kept up with Tom since he went to Broadway?
We “facecloth” each other, as I like to put it [laughs]. He really is such a great talent, and when people are that lovely, you really wish them all the luck in the world.
You recently turned 33. How did that feel?
It’s going good, touch wood, I haven’t bumped into anything yet. The cast gave me a surprise 'do in my dressing room, with balloons and streamers and all, and of course I’ve got my fella [Simon Booth]; we’re hoping to get married next year.
I saw a photo spread on the two of you in Hello! Tell me about him.
We’re just really, really happy, and he keeps me so calm, which is good! He has a car-leasing company and also works in renewable energy, though don’t ask me what that means.
There was the night early on in your run when the Queen came to see your show with her husband: a real event given that they almost never go to the theater.
What was great was that none of the cast knew the royal couple were coming beforehand, which I think was good because I would have gotten into a real tiz, and apparently she loved it. We’ve also had the Saudi royal family and also the queen of all queens, Liza Minnelli, who came backstage to tell us that she absolutely loved it.
That must have been especially nice for you, given your musical background.
It was, and, you know, I don’t mind telling you this: you can stuff your British divas who come out and warble along with an autocue! Liza Minnelli is the real thing, and just to meet her, well, how much better can things get?
Are you looking forward to performing during the Olympics?
We just did a photo shoot where we all took a different sport: I was a rower, Owain [Arthur] was a tennis player, Daniel [Ing] did fencing; it was hilarious. My oar looked a bit like a snow shovel. But I don’t actually have a TV in my dressing room. Instead, I have this terrible disease called iPhonitis; I can’t get off my iPhone.
Did the photo shoot make you want to become and athlete?
Are you kidding? You won’t find me jumping off any boards or throwing a javelin. If I were to do a sport, it would have to be something with “synchronized” in the title—something with a bit of music!