Calamity Jane – Review – Leeds Grand
By Sandra Callard, June 2015
Calamity Jane, the gun-toting eponymous heroine of the 1953 Hollywood film, made her appearance on Broadway eight years after the film is released. It resurfaced again in London recently and now reaches the Grand Theatre in Leeds on its nationwide tour.
The story is cute, predictable and well-known. But it is also heart-warming and funny, and this production hooks you right from the start. Calamity sets off to Chicago to bring back Adelaid Adams, the glamourous singer the patrons of the Golden Garter in Deadwood, Dakota, long to see. But she returns with her stage-struck dresser, Katie Brown, who is impersonating Adelaid. Katie is played with charm and humour by Sophia Ragavelas. She is the perfect foil for Calamity.
Jodie Prenger, winner of the BBC’s talent show some years ago to find the star of I’d Do Anything, plays the buck-skinned dead eye of Deadwood, and a cracking job she makes of it too. Jodie is an unusual musical heroine. For a start, she is a big girl, but with a personality as big as her hips. And she’s funny. She can deliver a neat and dead-pan one-liner like a veteran. And what a voice! It’s powerful and emotional, it hums with sweetness, it growls with passion. Her delivery of ‘Secret Love’ brought the house down. Doris Day-style she is not!
Tom Lister plays Wild Bill Hickock with a laid back charm. He strides about the stage with authority and humour, and has a surprisingly good voice. The actor delivers ‘Higher Than a Hawk’ with great tenderness, and banishes forever any lingering memories of his nine years on Emmerdale. He also produces some nifty footwork and moves with ease during the dance sequences.
The stage set is clever and inventive within its confines; set primarily in the saloon, a piano quickly turns into a stagecoach, and coconut shells mimic horses’ hooves. Stagecoach passengers jig up and down in rhythm with the motion of the coach. The result is a pleasing pastiche of the old west stagecoach travel.
The supporting cast is multi-talented. They act, sing, dance and play numerous musical instruments. They also play them on the move, sometimes as they are dancing. The troupe are as good to watch as they are to listen to. Bobby Delaney, who plays Francis Fryer, booked by the Golden Garter who thought his name was spelt Frances, and thus a woman, could do all of the above, including dressing in drag.
I did like Rattlesnake, Calamity’s partner on the stagecoach. He is played by Paul Kissaun, a former member of the group The Flying Pickets. Big and hairy, his brief few words of song in a gravelly deep baritone is so surprising it elicited an outburst of appreciative applause.
Calamity Jane has the usual mix-ups of mistaken identity, unrequited love, lovers parting and happy endings. Plus it is overlaid with a wonderful repertoire of memorable songs. The pseudo-American accents grate, as they always do, but this is still a barnstormer of a show. It is easy to watch, and has a dedicated and enthusiastic cast. They truly seem to enjoy what they are doing. What more can you ask? Catch it if you can.
images: Manuel Harlan