Calamity Jane

Adapted for the stage by Charles K.Freeman from a screen play by James O'Hanlon; music by Sammy Fain, lyrics by Paul Francis Webster
Stage Taylor Ltd
Upstairs at the Gatehouse

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I was never a great fan of Doris Day's romantic comedies but I loved this 1953 Warner Bros musical in which she abandoned her apple-pie image and turned in a spunky performance as Calamity Jane, the sharpshooting tomboy who protected the mail coach from Indian attack. Katherine Eames, who plays her in this production by Thom Southerland, doesn't have quite as sweet a voice as Day and in tackling a mid-west accent she loses out on articulation. That sometimes leaves her battling with the band to make her lyrics heard but it doesn't stop her from turning in a lively and engaging performance. Music director Mark Aspinall should hold back the volume a little and give her some help.

Her invigorating playing, with a soulful gentleness where needed, is present right through the show which is set mainly in Henry Miller's (Anthony Wise) moodily lit Deadwood bar. It's a decidedly show-biz approach that keeps erupting for purely theatrical reasons into Phyllida Crowley Smith's expressive choreography

Calamity was a real character, Martha Jane Cannary. Wild Bill Hickock, played here in fine voice by David Anthony, was real too and Jane certainly claimed to have been married to him, though that might not have been true. It makes no difference to the pleasure this tale of their sparring friendship gives with its romantic coupling of actress's dresser and maid Kate (Bonnie Hurst) who turns showgirl and Lt. Danny (Jonathan Vickers) whom Jane had her heart set on, and then of Jane and Bill. But first to Henry's bar packed with odd coves comes song and dance man Francis, mistaken as Frances and made to do a drag act. Ted McMillan turns him into a real personality - but so do all the performers in this show which the whole company delivers with great panache.

How could they not when they have songs like 'The Deadwood Stage,' 'Just Blew in from the Windy City,' 'The Black Hills of Dakota' and 'My Secret Love' and as far as I could tell they were performing without amplification and a real piano! Once again the Gatehouse plays host to a musical that delights its audience.

Until 3rd July 2010

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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