The Deadwood stagecoach arrived at The Playhouse Theatre tonight bringing the cast of Calamity Jane and by the sounds of it all through the show an awful lot of happy customers too.
One of the things that always sets me up for knowing that the producers have taken some care in a production is when that stage curtain first rises and you see the opening set and costumes. If they have spent time, money and attention to detail from the beginning, then the production is usually in safe hands. This was a big set using to good effect the large theatre stage that The Playhouse offers productions. From the opening few minutes of the show you are pulled right into the Golden Garter Saloon Bar.
Calamity Jane is of course a musical stage adaptation (originally performed in 1961) based on the classic 1953 film starring Doris Day and Howard Keel. Music is by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster. There are some now famous songs in this show including "The Deadwood Stage (Whipcrack Away)". "The Black Hills of Dakota" and of course "Secret Love". "Secret Love" earned its writers an Academy Award for best original song and also topped the American billboard 100 charts.
The film and stage show are based around the life of the real-life Calamity Jane (some people will be surprised Jane was a real person). Calamity is nicknamed Calamity because wherever she goes, calamity seems to follow her.
Without giving any of the story away to anyone out there who has not yet seen the film or musical production, Calamity has promised to bring the most famous actress/singer of the day called Adelaid Adams to the Golden Garter to perform after a near riot when the saloon advertised a glamourous singer that turned out to be a man. Calamity goes to Chicago to bring Adelaid back, but by mistake brings back Adelaid's maid Katie Brown.
There is of course also the love/hate relationship between Calamity and Wild Bill Hickok plus her secret crush on Army Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin. The arrival of Katie in town somewhat complicates things here for her.
Calamity Jane is played tonight by Jodie Prenger, and I have to admit that during the first half on the show I found the very thick American frontier drawl that Jodie was using very difficult to understand clearly a lot of the time. The accent did seem toned down a little for the second half of the show, and Jodie also gave a great performance of "Secret Love" in the second half. Calamity Jane is not an easy part to play or sing. There are an awful lot of things going on around her all of the time on stage and Jodie Prenger does manage the difficult job of always standing out on a crowded stage very well.
For me, the person who stole the whole show was Tom Lister as Wild Bill Hickok. Tom's performance just seemed to be the one that stood out from the rest of the cast and managed to hold all the various parts of the show together.
We also had fine performances tonight from Pheobe Street (Katie Brown), Alex Hammond (Danny Gilmartin), Rob Delaney (Francis Fryer) and Sioned Saunders (Susan).
The first half of tonight's show did for some reason take a little while to settle in, but by the second half everything had tightened up enormously.
You always in the end have to judge a show by how much the audience enjoyed it, and tonight the vast bulk of the people there seemed to be having a great night out and were singing and clapping along to all of the big show numbers. Book a ticket, see the show and hopefully you will have as good a night out yourself as many people seemed to be having tonight.
Review by Tom King