Music: Sammy Fain
Lyrics: Paul Francis Webster
Reviewer: Naomi Stevens
There are many musicals set in the Wild West but arguably the most famous is Calamity Jane, a gun-slinging, horse-riding tomboy who is known for her stories of defeating armies single handed and so named because she always seemed to attract disaster. Set largely in the town of Deadwood, the audience is transported back to 1876, a time when entertainment consisted of gambling and theatre and the main form of travel to and from town was a stagecoach.
Jodie Prenger plays the eponymous rôle. Prenger’s version of Jane, or ‘Calam’ as she is known is sharp, feisty and brash, everything you would expect from such a character. Her voice is husky and strong and well suited to the rôle and Prenger never once loses the broad American drawl she has mastered. Most of all she makes it very easy not only to like Calam but to be able to relate to her.
Among her friends are Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin (Alex Hammond) and Wild Bill Hickok (Tom Lister), famous in his own right. Prenger and Lister have a lot of well meaning banter and the two of them have a great connection. Lister also has a lovely voice and his songs were most enjoyable. All the men regularly joke about Calam’s lack of femininity – indeed on several occasions she is mistaken for a man – and Gilmartin, the object of her affection, is clueless as to her feelings.
Deadwood is shaken up by the arrival of the beautiful Katie Brown (Phoebe Street) who the men bend over backwards for and vie for her affections. But not only does she create a stir, she brings about some changes after becoming good friends with Calam. Street gives a confident performance and her (along with Prenger’s) rendition of A Woman’s Touch is catchy and sweet.
The show itself is packed with well-known musical numbers. All are performed strongly and the orchestra is made up entirely of the cast, so displaying their array of talents. The Deadwood Stage is always a highlight, as is Windy City but Secret Love and Black Hills of Dakota are equally mesmerising, if for the vocal quality rather than the staging. The ensemble produce a wonderful sound and there is also some entertaining dancing thought out by choreographer Nick Winston, which is entirely representative of a hoe down and it is hard not to want to get up and join in.
The set itself does not change throughout the production, but location changes are created via the use of lighting, props and the imagination of the audience. Mostly set in a saloon with props used to give the impression of being on a stagecoach or in Calam’s hut. When the scene moves from Deadwood to Chicago, coloured lighting is used to depict the theatre in the city and although the backdrop barely alters the story and location remain easy to follow.
This production is the essence of feel-good. It is impossible not to smile throughout, it is relatively fast moving so at no point do you find yourself looking at your watch, and the musical numbers are plentiful. The characters are ‘real’ and believable (this may partly be due to them being based on real-life folk) but it is also refreshing to see a strong female character who has something about her and can look after herself. An absolute classic, even if country and western is not ‘your thing’, Calam’s infectious personality makes it hard to resist. Catch it while you can.
Runs until Saturday 25th October