Rating: 4 / 5
The title role of Calamity Jane is one of the true plum parts for women in music theatre.
In the current touring production, television’s Virginia Gay (All Saints, Winners and Losers) is a revelation, proving she is just as comfortable handling a live audience as she is in front of the one that loves her on the small screen.
There is more than a touch of the great Katharine Hepburn in Gay’s performance as Calamity. Gay is a quick-witted performer, and her ad-libs have the audience in stitches.
Calamity is a tough, confident female with a heart of gold, who is often mistaken for a man, due to her masculine capabilities and disregard of female glamour. In fashion terms, she looks a perfect fright.
But she is much loved and valued by residents of the Wild West town of Deadwood.
To save the reputation of Deadwood Saloon proprietor and entrepreneur Henry Miller (Tony Taylor), Calamity Jane offers to ride to the big smoke of Chicago to drag back the most popular and beautiful actress of the day, Adelaide Adams (Christina O’Neil) but, due to a backstage confusion, brings back the actress’s star-struck maid, Katie Brown (Laura Bunting) to perform to the good citizens of Deadwood. Unfortunately, Katie is initially a disaster, so Calamity is forced to assert her authority and keep the peace, and she and Katie become great friends. But the two girls become rivals in love for the attention of Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin (Matthew Pearce) and Wild Bill Hickok (Anthony Gooley), and this leads to the end of the girls’ friendship, as Calamity orders Katie to leave town.
But after a few twists and turns, Calamity realises that the man she truly loves is Bill, and Katie loves Danny, so the show ends in a satisfying double wedding.
This production is done with a tiny cast of eight actor-singers, and that includes musical director Nigel Ubrihien, who switches between piano, piano accordion and character work all night.
There is a wealth of musical talent in the cast, with various actors strutting their stuff on tuba, trombone and ukulele—this certainly takes multi-skilling to the nth degree.
It’s a show with plenty of audience interaction, as many audience members are seated at tables in the saloon, and one man is picked to become part of the action. It all works very well indeed, due to the skill of the cast and their ability to handle just about anything that happens.
This could be called Calamity Jane Meets Cabaret, as the show is created around the audience rather than just performed to them.
The talented cast certainly brings home the bacon, and Virginia Gay is a triumph as Calamity Jane.
Highlight: Virginia Gay’s brilliant performance
Red flag: Mild sexual content
Calamity Jane tours Canberra and Sydney in August and returns to Melbourne in December.