Calamity Jane is a conundrum of a musical. On the one hand, the show centres around a strong minded powerhouse of woman who thinks nothing of downing a sarsaparilla before rounding up the cattle. On the other hand, one of the main songs for another female lead is entitled ‘Woman’s work’ and is basically a song about how cooking and cleaning is the best way to keep a man happy. You see my trouble?
Set in the Wild West town of Deadwood, the show follows Calamity Jane as she helps her uncle by trying to secure a performance from the country’s prettiest, darn-tootinest actress but ends up bringing the wrong gal to town. A love square then develops between this classy lady, Calamity Jane, a tall drink of water Lieutenant and Wild Bill Hickcock. If we’re willing to hang up our feminist hats for the evening then Calamity Jane is a good watch. Full of square dances, gun fights and banjos, it feels authentically western and brings back the good old days of smiley musicals of the 1950s. However, as soon as we put out modern day eyes back on, the show feels dated and the plot becomes implausible.
As Calamity herself, Jodie Prenger is absolutely stunning. Her brashness, comic timing and physicality fills the stage with energy, but it’s when she revels the tender side of the character that she really proves what a powerhouse of an actress she is. The rest of the company impressively perform the music live, switching instruments at the drop of a hat and throwing themselves into the dance routines with excellent vigour. However, this is a double edged sword as it can feel as though the company blend together and other than a couple of songs there are no other stand out performances. However, this may also be because the sound mixing meant that performers are often drowned out and not given their chance to shine.
Some of this can be laid at the feet of director Nikolai Foster’s feet because while choreographer Nick Winston’s routines feel well thought out and inventive, several of the dialogue scenes feel stilted and under-rehearsed. Similarly, while Mathew Wright’s set looks aesthetically rustic, the dialect coaching means that accents are plastered on so thick it can be hard to understand what is being sung.
Calamity Jane is by no means a bad show. It can be fun, lively and upbeat with many audience members hooting along to the encore. However, a few production troubles combined with an outdated message means that I was left scratching my head. It may be over 60 years old, but I couldn’t help feeling that compared to other shows, poor Jane is a bit of a calamity in the modern world.
Reviewed by Roz Carter
Photo: Philip Tull
Calamity Jane is playing at the Richmond Theatre until 8 August 2015.
Varied opinions for Calamity Jane…
Read my 5* review of Calamity Jane at the New Victoria Theatre here
Read Michaela Clement-Hayes’s 4* review of the show at New Wimbledon Theatre here