I went to see this worried that the stage version would be overshadowed by the classic Doris Day/Howard Keel film and their performances. Certainly, the clever script by Charles Freeman does not depart radically from the film; but it’s through the additions, adaptation, clever quips and theatrical concept that this production triumphs.
The evening is one of real charm and, ultimately, enough originality that instead of the usual clone of the film that you often get in these situations, you actually are given more of an homage to the original with some dazzling performances and real feeling. The structure is entirely theatrical.
Jodie Prenger does her own interpretation of Calamity Jane; and Tom Lister brings real force and some excellent singing and dancing to the role of Wild Bill, enrapturing the audience especially with his solo “My Heart is Higher than a Hawk”. The entire cast is simply superb – energetic, talented, and working as a strong ensemble. This is not a film put on stage; it is real theatre with the original film as a kind of starting point. It uses wonderfully simple and imaginative effects throughout for the Deadwood Stage, the shifts of scene, and so on; and moves swiftly and dynamically. It is perfectly paced. The single set itself, designed by Matthew Wright who also did the costumes, is an attractive, convincing Deadwood saloon that pays homage to every saloon you ever saw in every Western film. As before with the Watermill Theatre, the characters on the stage not only sing and dance, they play all the instruments and are the performing band for all the music; and this approach adds an extra dimension to the proceedings that makes the show all that much more real theatre. They are a musically fine group in every way.
Sitting through this evening was a real pleasure. It has clearly been put together by a very intelligent team, who also love the material and prove to be innovative and inventive with their treatment of it. The choreography by Nick Winston is snappy and completely idiomatic; and it references Agnes de Mille and Jerome Robbins. Sioned Saunders, as Susan; Sophia Ragavelas as Katie Brown; Bobby Delaney as Francis Fryer are all memorable and have fine voices. The whole evening is stylish and is cleverly aware of the idiom of the story. But the undoubted star is Jodie Prenger, who gives her own convincing interpretation of the character of Calamity Jane, all her music and especially of the song “Secret Love” in a way that stays with you.
Director Nikolai Foster has got some wonderful performances and memorable moments out of everyone in the cast; and he knows how to balance having just enough reference to the original film not to disappoint people, who have come because of it and providing plenty of original, inventive and sprightly ideas of interpretation and movement that keep things moving along and are both surprising and apt.
All in all, this production provides you with an excellent evening of live theatre and I now can hardly wait to see Jodie Prenger again when she takes on the role of Miss Hannigan, replacing Clive Revel Horwood for the Oxford dates in the upcoming tour of Annie. Indeed, I would rather like to see her as well in musicals such as Call Me Madam and Hello, Dolly! Perhaps Tom Lister could play in those too? Casting him as a younger-than-usual and sexy Mr Vandergelder would certainly give that character a new spin.
Calamity Jane goes on tour until the 8th August – so catch it while you can. It is a delight.
- By Charles K Freeman adapted from a screenplay by James O’Hanlon
- Directed by Nikolai Foster
- Cast Includes: Jodie Prenger, Tom Lister, Alex Hammond, Bobby Delaney, Anthony Dunn, Sophia Ragavelas
- New Theatre, Oxford
- Until 13 June 2015 then on UK tour
- Review by Mel Cooper
- 10 June 2015