Director: Nikolai Foster
Adapted for the stage by: Charles K. Freeman
Music and Lyrics: Sammy Fain andPaul Francis Webster
Reviewer: Jo Payne
Far from being the calamity suggested, thisCalamity Janeis a seamless re-telling of a well-known story. Its plot, songs, design and cast combine to create an impressive feast for the senses and emotions. From the outset, the audience are drawn in to hum or sing along to ‘The Black Hills of Dakota’, the show’s most well-known song, before being taken on a journey through a charming tale based on true events.
Calamity Jane is a lady who does not have the reputation of being one. With her guns hoisted on each side and fringed skin-coat, she is one of the local lads in the bar. Through a series of sometimes farcical events, she ends up surprising the town, a special man and above all, herself. The plot speeds effortlessly through many goofs, gags and gender stereotypes before leaving the audience with a satisfied smile and a want to return.
Jodie Prenger leads this stellar cast, demonstrating enough sass and spirit to give Calamity Jane her background while being both believable and vulnerable. Opposite her are two strapping males, Wild Bill and Danny (Tom Lister and Alex Hammond) who provide romance and humour in equal measure with their facial expressions and actions often speaking more than their words. They are supported by a cast who despite mastering a tricky accent and small space, manage to easily transport the audience into their world.
As a cast of musician-actors, this group are superb. Instead of having a live band or recorded backing tracks to accompany the many musical numbers, the actors are the band. A piano, double bass, percussion and some guitars provide the core, with a plethora of instruments alongside; piccolo, saxophone, mouth organ and violin to name just a few. Not only are they expertly played in tune and time, there are also dance moves, sung interludes and instrument changes mid-song as well. Aside from the songs, almost every sound effect is created on stage in some form, allowing for instant cues and some impressive stunts.
From curtain-up, the audience is immersed in the one room through which the story is told. In these walls, one can travel to Chicago, the stable and back to the bar, as it appears in most of the show. Along with touches expected of 19th century Deadwood, the set is also decorated with brooms, beer bottles and a barrage of instruments, carefully positioned on the wooden beams, including a double bass.
Not only is the set practical and authentic, it is also manipulated, through the movement of chairs and other pieces, to create some seemingly-impossible effects, along with some strategically designed lighting. Combined, these help visualise journeys by horseback, cart and train as well as some flashback scenes to accompany the lyrics. The moveable piano allows for the audience to get a 360 degree view of the people playing.
With over sixty years since the movie was made, it is easy to come with preconceived expectations. However, this production gives a revived and refreshed feeling to the show, allowing the audience to enjoy and experience a classic musical, while captivating them all over again. Making this an ideal production that can be equally enjoyed by seasoned fans and newcomers.
Tour photo ¦Runs until Saturday 2nd May 2015