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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
Calamity Jane
by Lizzie Loveridge

Oh! The Deadwood Stage is a-rollin' on over the plains,
With the curtains flappin' and the driver slappin' the reins.
Beautiful sky! A wonderful day!
Whip crack-away!, Whip crack-away!, Whip crack-away!

--- The Deadwood Stage
Calamity Jane
Toyah Willcox as Calamity Jane
(Photo: Robert Day)
Toyah Willcox brings this touring, stage adaptation of the 1953 Doris Day film Calamity Jane to London's Shaftesbury Theatre for a three month run. Set in the Wild West of Oklahoma and Annie Get Your Gun!, Calamity Jane is very loosely based on the real life story of Martha Jane Canary known for her daring acts of heroism and for sporting male attire. Some years back on Broadway, Kathleen Chalfant recreated the real Calamity Jane in True History and Real Adventures.(review).

While the interpretation of the Wild West is firmly ensconced in the 1950s, sexism and anti-Native American attitudes prevailing, the tunes are simply wonderful. "Secret Love" won an Oscar for best original film song, but songs such as "The Black Hills of Dakota", "Windy City" and "The Deadwood Stage" have also become classics.

The story tells of an Indian Scout, Calamity Jane (Toyah Willcox), a gun toting, hard riding woman, heroine of several bold exploits and spinner of tall tales. She promises to bring a showgirl from Chicago to the town of Deadwood, but instead of the famous singing star Adelaid (Emma Dodd), she fetches her understudy, Katie Brown (Kellie Ryan). Katie causes a lot of excitement in Deadwood and threatens to steal both of Calamity's beaux, Wild Bill Hickok (Michael Cormick) and Lt Danny Gilmartin (Gary Kilby).

The characters of the town of Deadwood hang around for atmosphere, the saloon owner, the women, the prospectors, the soldiers. The mis-booked male saloon star Francis Fryer (Phil Ormerod) who is meant to be a woman, Frances Fryer, so as not to disappoint does a show in drag and almost creates a riot. However the real Chicago saloon dance scene starring the provocative Adelaid is about as raunchy as a Sunday School outing.

Toyah Wilcox puts an immense amount of energy into the role and a certain vigorous charm. She sings well although some of the early songs seemed underpowered and her American accent is passable, but I shall avoid the temptation to compare her with Doris Day. More at home in her Redskin outfit than a ball gown, her performance is full of verve. Michael Cormick as Wild Bill Hickok is a find, he won a series of New Faces in his native Australia and his singing voice is superb.

The ensemble dance numbers are fun, often set against outstandingly pretty red-purple sunsets with the silhouetted famous Black Hills. I liked too the full size, authentic looking recreation of the Deadwood Stage which inspires the "Whip Crack away" song. Miniature houses light up at night to give an impression of the main street of Deadwood. This is a small budget musical which, should you miss, would not be a calamitous disaster.

Calamity Jane
Lyrics by Paul Francis Webster
Music by Sammy Fain
Adapted for the Stage by Charles K Freeman
Based on the motion picture produced by Warner Brothers
Directed by Ed Curtis

Starring Toyah Willcox
With: Michael Cormick, Kellie Ryan, Gary Kilby, Duncan Smith, Abigail Aston, Phil Ormerod, Ahmet Ahmet, Kat Baker, Alan Bradshaw, Lynsey Britton, Michael Broughton, John Contes, Gareth Derrick, Emma Dodd, Carly Hainsby, Paul Hemming, Iam Gareth Jones, Cameron Leigh
Designer: Simon Higlett
Choreography: Craig Revel Horwood
Lighting Designer: James Whiteside
Musical Director: Robert Cousins
Sound: Simon Whitehorn
Running time: Two hours thirty minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 906 3798
Booking to 20th September 2003
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 26th June 2003 Performance at the Shaftesbury Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2 (Tube Station: Holborn)

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