Calamity Jane performed at the Theatre Royal Nottingham on Tuesday 7th October 2014.


Review by Sandra Cooper 

Hold on to your Stetsons as the Wild West lands in Nottingham for a thigh slapping jamboree with an all singing and all dancing cast in the stage version of Doris Day’s classic film, Calamity Jane.

Mainly set in the Golden Garter Saloon in Deadwood, Matthew Wright’s superb design has everything; a stage, a bar and American bunting surrounding the balcony banisters. His attention to detail is impressive with lights in empty bean cans filling the auditorium and the clever way in which he has hidden the many instruments used so that they merely look like part of the set is ingenious. In fact it was so good that you immediately felt as though you were back in the 1876 Wild West.

The story is basically one of love, intermingled with all sorts of confusion and mistaken identities. Henry Miller, played admirably by Anthony Dunn, is the vexed owner of the saloon and he has booked the voluptuous Frances Fryer to perform on his stage; much to the enthusiasm of the locals. But when she turns out to be a he, due to a misunderstanding of the name Francis, things turn nasty. In an attempt to fool his customers, he gets Francis Fryer to dress as a woman and perform. When his wig falls off, the game is quickly over.

Stetsons off to Rob Delaney as Francis Fryer whose piano playing and amiable hoofing around was funny and at the same time perceptive as he covered for the young Katie, masquerading as Adelaid Adams.

Up steps Calamity Jane, whose reputation in Deadwood rests upon her ability to behave more like a guy than a girl. Jodie Prenger is finely cast as the buck skinned, short tempered firecracker who boasts that she will go to ‘Chicagee’ in a bid to find an acting star; in this case, burlesque floozy Adelaid Adams, for the Deadwood Theatre.

Whilst she is known for boasting about her amazing tales of adventure, the general opinion is that ‘she’s not exactly lying but she’s careless with the truth’, and so there are doubts as to whether she can make good on her promise. Unfortunately she acquires Adam’s maid Katie, by mistake, thus unleashing a whole world of trouble once the cat is inevitably out of the bag.

When the duplicity is discovered all hell threatens to break loose but the new girl is rather talented and rapidly becomes the object of desire of both Wild Bill Hickok (Tom Lister) and Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin (Alex Hammond) on whom Calamity has set her own gun sights.

Jodie Prenger was born to play Calamity Jane. With her strident voice, engaging presence and ownership of the stage, she plays the title role with great gusto and nicely revealed vulnerability.

Emmerdale hunk, Tom Lister languidly plays her foil (and eventual husband) Wild Bill Hickok with a tremendous wry humour and his musicality was a revelation. Delivering a powerful spirited performance, his rendition of Higher Than A Hawk was simply beautiful.

What was impressive was that this is a multi-talented cast who not only can sing, dance, act, but they all play musical instruments, often all at the same time.

Rattlesnake (Paul Kissaun, a former member of the group, The Flying Pickets) is a wonderfully hirsute bear-like figure and could have stepped straight out of a spaghetti western. Christina Tedders gives a seductive performance of The Man That I’ll Marry Is Harry, in the role of the diva Adelaid, whilst Phoebe Street is delightful as the ambitious Katie Brown. The onstage banter between Lister as Wild Bill and Alex Hammond as the Lieutenant was simply hilarious, whilst superlative support was received from Jon Bonner as Doc, Jamie Noar as Hank and the lovely Sioned Saunders playing Susan.

But it was the songs that we had all come to hear. The very emotive The Black Hills Of Dakota never failed to impress; Just Blew In From the Windy City was fun with no end of merry abandon, whilst the Deadwood Stage was a number you simply wanted to sing a long too. Eventually Prenger delivered Secret Love which was substantially different from Doris Day’s saccharine version, but was no less potent.

Directed with flair and panache by Nickolai Foster, this was a jubilant celebration of musical theatre that makes you want to join in with a very sincere Yee Ha! The stage coach ride from The Windy City was a piece of inventive magical theatre, whilst the simple devices of turning a honky tonk piano into a stage coach and coconut shells for galloping horses only added to the pleasurably barnstorming nature of the show.

Every one of the 135 minutes was highly watchable and if you are not singing Whip Crack Away as you head for home, then I’ll eat my Stetson.