It’s been 18 months since I saw its first season, and Calamity Jane has hardened up a little while touring.
But the mischievous spirit and meta-theatrical humour and that elevated this dated stage musical is a long way from fossilised.
Put it this way, I got caught out by the same gag even though I’ve seen the show three times now. Either they’re great at selling it, or I’m losing my marbles. Probably both.
Originally staged in the shoebox Hayes, designer Lauren Peters’ evocation of the Golden Garter, Deadwood’s saloon-cum-theatre, scales up nicely at Belvoir, with festoon lights knitting stage and auditorium together and blurring the fourth wall.
When she’s not riding the stagecoach, the Garter is where you’ll find the lovelorn tomboy “Calamity” Jane (Virginia Gay), a spinner of big yarns who, after some confusion over a new song-and-dance act, is dispatched to far-off Chicago to acquire the services of showgirl pin-up Adelaide Adams (Sheridan Harbridge).
Instead, Jane mistakenly offers the gig to Katie Brown (Laura Bunting), Adelaide’s stage-struck dresser.
Still, a purdy gal is a purdy gal, and even though Katie’s Deadwood debut doesn’t go entirely smoothly, the town takes the plucky imposter to its heart – none more fulsomely than Danny Gilmartin (Matthew Pearce), the apple of Calamity’s eye. Even local gunslinger Bill Hickock (Anthony Gooley) has his head turned.
Gleefully subverting the original’s performance of gender and romance, director Richard Carroll’s production retains its pleasing rough diamond look and feel and its original Hayes Theatre cast for this season. All perform flawlessly.
Channeling her inner 14-year-old, Gay’s Calamity is a delightful mess of square-peg physicality and unprocessed feelings, all tied up with a powerful need to belong – to someone, anyone …
Harbridge sparkles as Garter showgirl Susan and blazes as Adelaide. Rob Johnson turns a second-tier role into a highlight (he’s Francis Fryer, a hapless song-and-dance man) and Tony Taylor is very funny as the impresario Henry Miller. Musical director Nigel Ubrihien contributes fine ivory tickling and some nicely timed gags.
Composer Sammy Fain and lyricist Paul Francis Weber’s songs are given novel treatments: The ensemble gathers Carter Family-style for an aching Black Hills of Dakota. Gay soars singing My Secret Love. Gooley, who has gained in confidence as a singer, delivers a wistful Higher than a Hawk.
This wonderfully funny production creates an inclusive, good-time atmosphere, especially if you’re seated on stage (you might even get some lines to speak). But that same feeling – that you have permission to enjoy yourself – transmits all the way to the back row.
(Reviewed at Belvoir, August 26, 2018)