Calamity Jane (A Musical Western)


Calamity JaneMarie Clark Musical Theatre Company. The Arts Theatre. 28 May 2014

There actually was a Calamity Jane who actually lived in Deadwood, South Dakota, in 1876.  She palled around with and eventually married Wild Bill Hickok in a drunken fit.  And as Wild Bill says about Calam (as she's called in the show), there is a lot of fantasticatin' about her wild west life, but if half of it were true, she was an exceptional gal in a man's world.

Calamity Jane (A Musical Western) is the 1961 adaptation of the 1953 Hollywood movie.  I can't see that it won any awards, but don't let that throw you off your Palomino, it's a good night out.

At the opening, a cowboy milling around with others outside the Golden Garter Saloon announces that "the stage is here."  Like I didn't know where the stage was, and I was in the third row.  Oh, he meant the stage coach!  D'oh!  This revelation is followed by one of many vigorous, melodic country hoedown numbers full of bright costumes and happy faces, swishing frocks and boisterous interaction amongst the supernumeraries.

There is a comic story about a woman that Lucille Ball might have modelled Lucy Ricardo after, a love quadrangle, and another tale of self-realisation or maybe conformity or gender, take your pick.  There are a lot of anachronisms to play with in the '50s script, and director Ben Stefanoff might have explored them more.  For example, Tegan Gully's Calamity sat somewhere between character and caricature with a shade of corn in her cowpoke.  Nonetheless, Calam was vivacious and complex.  But why was her side piece in front like a codpiece - looked weird.  

Doug Phillips's Francis Fryer's I-can-show-you dance certainly tested his ability and determination, and wound up sort of cute.  The best voice in the house was Andrew Crispe's Wild Bill Hickok.  He possesses a rare and clear resonance that you could just listen to for hours.  Bravo!  His Wild Bill was a necessary cool and composed foil to Calam's hyperactivity and bravado.  There love duet was warm hearted.  Leah Potter did a poor impersonation of Adelaide Adams (I loved hearing the word Adelaide sung in a song) but a great representation of a show girl.  The newbies in the chorus were augmented by sharp performers who otherwise do lead parts, like Tanya Grabis and Buddy Dawson.    

Deadwood's Golden Garter Saloon was the plainest saloon this side of the Black Hills, and the other side, too.  And Calam's cabin ain't much better - log chinking sat uncomfortably next to a rendered fire surround with scroll shelf brackets.  The only decent set was the saloon exterior and we only saw that for five minutes (set design - Ben Stefanoff and Rodney Bates).  Choreographer Rachel Dow got everyone with their best foot forward and arranged some rousing show numbers.  Kristin Stefanoff's Calamity Jane Orchestra was gallop apace right to the finish.   

In a musical, it's the music - I loved the big voices and melodies, the big band sound, and the liveliness of this energetic and happy production.  So saddle up your pardner and mosey on into The Arts Theatre for a rootin' tootin' hoot nanny of a musical.

David Grybowski

When: 23 to 31 may
Where: The Arts Theatre