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Posts Tagged ‘Jodie Prenger’

Kay Mellor is a prolific writer of populist TV drama and Fat Friends was one of her early successes, running to four series over five years. I never saw it. It’s also famous for connecting Ruth Jones and James Corden, who went on to create the hugely successful sitcom Gavin & Stacy together, taking cast members Alison Steadman and Sheridan Smith with them. Now thirteen years on, Mellor has turned it into a musical with a score by Nick Lloyd Webber.

It revolves around slimming class Super Slimmer, franchised by Julie Fleshman, run by Lauren, who also runs the wedding dress shop. Betty, who’s lost five stone, is expected to win Slimmer of the Year but she doesn’t. Her daughter Kelly, soon to be married, shows off her flesh proudly, which her sister films and it goes viral. Fleshman decides to exploit Kelly and challenges her to lose enough weight to fit into the wedding dress of her dreams, in which case she will pay for both the dress and the wedding itself, which is handy as her parents uninsured Fish & Chip shop has burnt down leaving them stony broke! Kelly is a hopeless dieter so Fleshman helps her with some dubious pills. Will she make it?

The plotting is a bit clunky, but it’s a good enough story for musical theatre with it’s heart in the right place and a worthy body image message. The songs, in a whole range of styles, are OK though I’m not expecting to remember them tomorrow. It’s a touring cast to put bums on seats with TV talent show winners aplenty, a Corrie legend and a former pop star for good measure. In some cities there’s a cricketer too, but we were spared that in Dartford.

There were some very strong vocal performances, notably from an almost unrecognisable blonde Jodie Prenger as Kelly and Sam Bailey as her mum Betty; both acted well too. Natalie Anderson and Jonathan Halliwell were good as the Jewish slimming class leader and young Anglican vicar who fancy each other. Joel Montague is a very likeable Kevin, Kelly’s intended, also with good vocals (I do wonder what Freddie Flintoff makes of this role), as is Kevin ‘Curly’ Kennedy in the less demanding role of dad Fergus. Atomic Kitten’s Natasha Hamilton makes a serviceable baddie as Fleshman.

I didn’t take to the Orchard Theatre Dartford, where the show seemed somewhat distant, or its noisy audience, or to Dartford itself come to think of it, but I’m sure my knee will recover eventually, and I’m glad I caught the tour. If they’re planning to take it ‘up west’ they’ll need to up their game a bit. It’s a first musical for writer / lyricist / director Mellor and only the second for Lloyd-Webber Jnr and that does show a bit.

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Our annual outing to the lovely Watermill Theatre near Newbury for the second wild west musical of the month and it turns out they’re a little bit connected. Calamity Jane was also real and toured in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, the subject of Annie Get Your Gun. If I catch the tour of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers when I get back from my own wild west tour, that’ll be the complete set. This one of course started as a film musical in 1953, with Doris Day in the title role, and was adapted for the stage, with extra songs, in 1961. We don’t see it anywhere near as often as we should; I think the last time was ten years ago with Toyah Wilcox in the lead! In 1979 it was Barbara Windsor!!

The wood-slatted barn-like Watermill is the perfect venue for this show – hang a few of those iconic semi-circular coloured banners from the gallery and the design job’s done, though Matthew Wright went one better and built a pocket-sized proscenium stage for the saloon theatre. The cast of thirteen actor-musicians feels like a lot more in a rumbustious production in such a small space. Choreographer Nick Winston works wonders staging hoe-downs with next to no space. Nicolai Foster’s staging has great energy and enthusiasm and the cast seem to be having a ball, as the audience did. This is the same creative team that gave us NYMT’s terrific Hired Man at St. James Theatre earlier in the month.

Dedwood’s saloon owner Henry Miller gets his E’s and I’s mixes up and books a male Francis in error, causing a near riot amongst his male patrons. Calamity Jane (Calam to her friends!) heads to Chicago to fetch a replacement and returns triumphantly with Miss Adeleide, but she got the performer and her maid Kate mixed up and gets the latter in error, the right sex but without the talent. Kate’s given a chance, redeems herself and stays on as Calam’s room-mate. At this point, they both discover their love for Danny and all hell breaks loose, but its musical theatre so it all comes good and we end with a customary double wedding. The score includes The Deadwood Stage and The Black Hills of Dakota (which prompted a spontaneous singalong!) and Secret Love, which we know more out of context because of red-lipped Kathy Kirby’s 60’s hit (a bit like You’ll Never Walk Alone from Carousel).

The title role is very dominant and Jodie Prenger is well suited to it, with fine vocals and bucket-loads of warmth and charm. She’s well supported by two excellent leading men in Alex Hammond as Danny and Tom Lister as Wild Bill Hickok. There are lovely performances in smaller roles, most notably Anthony Dunn as Miller and Rob Delaney as Francis.

It’s embarking on a tour after this run in Newbury, but I suspect it won’t be as much fun as it is here. Terrific entertainment.

 

 

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