Jodie Prenger talks about the joy of being back on stage as the classic musical Tell Me on a Sunday heads to Sheffield

There’s something of a general consensus in the theatre industry just at the minute, namely that audiences, starved of live entertainment the past few years, are looking for a thoroughly good night out.

Jodie Prenger as Emma, a young woman from London who travels to America to find love, in Tell Me on a Sunday.  (Picture: Tristram Kenton).
Jodie Prenger as Emma, a young woman from London who travels to America to find love, in Tell Me on a Sunday. (Picture: Tristram Kenton).

Expect, then, to see comedies, feel good musicals and anything that is essentially crowd-pleasing coming to a venue near you soon.

Ticking all such boxes is the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black classic collaboration Tell Me on a Sunday. The 1980s hit musical is heading back to the stage, coming to Sheffield next week and for audiences it’s not before time.

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The same goes for the star of the show. “Is it great to be back? One thousand percent,” says Jodie Prenger, who is taking on the lead role which was originated by Marti Webb in the original production.

Jodie stars in Tell Me on A Sunday which is coming to Sheffield next week. (Picture: Tristram Kenton).

“Naively, we all thought that this would only pause everything for a few weeks and it has taken out now well over a year of our lives. Having to wait over a year to do what we love and are so passionate about – to step on stage with an audience there – I’m not going to lie, there have been tears.

“You look at the glimmer off someone’s glasses in the audience, or in a sad song you hear someone get a hanky out and there is just nothing in comparison to live theatre and that connection you have. There is a two-way relationship between everyone involved in the show and the audience and I’m so glad the relationship is back on. I have felt like a jilted girlfriend, just desperate to go back out with everyone again.”

It’s not a huge surprise that Prenger is talking in terms of on-again, off-again relationships: the role she’s playing has clearly had an effect.

Tell Me on a Sunday is a one-woman show built around a song-cycle telling the story of a young woman from London who travels to America to find love.

Her misadventures of the heart start in New York, take her to Hollywood then back to Manhattan. A seemingly simple idea, the combination of Lloyd Webber and Don Black made it irresistible.

By the time of the first production in 1979, Lloyd Webber had Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and Evita under

his belt, while Don Black had an Oscar in the cabinet for Born Free.

Within a couple of years of its premiere, the production had travelled into the West End and the Marti Webb role has since attracted stars such as Denise Van Outen and Patsy Palmer.

The production arriving in Sheffield next week was first staged in 2016, with director Paul Foster, well known to Sheffield audiences, at the helm. Prenger was already a force to be reckoned with and has since become one of the country’s go-to musical performers.

“What we do this time is the one-act show, and then have a second act which is me singing at the piano, and then we have a question and answer session.

It’s been fantastic, the audiences get really engaged with it,” she says.

“The songs are beautiful, little gems. Years and years ago I had a ‘best of the musicals’ double cassette and it had Take That Look Off Your Face and Tell Me On A Sunday on it. I loved it and played it over and over. But all the songs together create a journey that every woman has gone through at some point in her life. Tell Me On A Sunday is a song that really affects people.”

One of the reasons Prenger is so in demand is because she has an authenticity she brings to her roles. After coming to prominence through the BBC talent-search show I’d Do Anything, she has taken on a number of stage roles – Yorkshire audiences will remember her from the premiere of Kay Mellor’s musical version of Fat Friends.

Her work on the club circuit, early in her career, is one of the reasons Prenger can connect with an audience.

“There’s no-one else in a show like this, no-one to fill in if you forget a line, of course that’s daunting. But even when I was doing the clubs I was always singing musical theatre songs so I’ve probably always sung in character.

“There was one song during rehearsals for Tell Me On A Sunday where I just couldn’t get the lyrics right, although fortunately I’ve not got it wrong on stage yet. It is a huge amount of pressure when it’s just you though, you’re incredibly exposed, and it’s physically and emotionally draining,” she says.

“You have to go through those emotions for real, so you draw on what you’ve been through yourself. Emma’s experiences chip away at her but she is strong and wants to do some

good with her life. I find myself willing her on. She deserves a port and some cheese by the end of it.”

Speaking of which, the last year has seen most of us feel like we’re deserving of port and cheese, how has she dealt with the pandemic?

“I was very lucky to take part in some online productions over the last year, and I also wrote with a friend of mine Neil Hurst, a rather different edition of Cinderella which was performed at the Turbine Theatre in Battersea.

“We wrote that and we are in talks of having a TV series optioned, so I’ve been doing lots of writing actually.

“I was lucky enough to have snippets of what I’ve really missed and just keeping myself going with that, and it all kept me afloat mentally. Being back on stage and performing, and back with audiences in the room has been just incredible.”

Tell Me On A Sunday is at the Sheffield Lyceum, August 31 to September 4. Tickets on sheffieldtheatres.co.uk or call the box office on 0114 249 6000.