Calamity Jane, which started life as a 1953 musical film loosely based on the real-life Wild West heroine, comes to Richmond as the final stop in a national tour that began life at the Watermill Theatre, directed by Nikolai Foster. Adapted by Charles K. Freeman, the show, with music by Sammy Fain and lyrics by Paul Francis Webster, stars Jodie Prenger, winner of the BBC series I’d Do Anything, in the title role and former Emmerdale star Tom Lister as her sometime antagonist, Wild Bill Hickock.
It’s an actor-musician show, and the cast prove themselves more than able to both play and sing with aplomb, although I thought a certain spark was lacking… maybe I’m just being picky. The book can sometimes be a bit clumsy, but the varied and impressive score makes up for this, featuring such tuneful and well-known hits as “The Black Hills of Dakota”, “Just Blew In From The Windy City”, “It’s Harry I’m Planning To Marry”, “A Woman’s Touch” and “I Can Do Without You”. With a song about housework and the constant exortations to Jane to get out of her trousers and into a dress, the show isn’t exactly feminist-friendly, but this is a charge that can be levelled at many of the musicals of the period, and if you can accept it as a product of its time there is much to enjoy.
I wasn’t sure about Jodie Prenger’s portrayal of “Calam” – I thought she seemed a bit over the top in her acting, though my doubts fell away as she began to sing, her charisma, stage presence and powerful voice showing why she is a star. I particularly enjoyed her rendition of “Secret Love”, the song that won an Oscar at the time of its release. Tom Lister was superb as Wild Bill Hickock, Jane’s sparring partner and eventual lover, and I was very impressed by his performance of “My Love Is Higher Than A Hawk”. Matthew Wright’s set is ingenious, the stage-within-a-stage serving multiple uses.
If you can get to Richmond before Saturday, it’s worth catching this tour before it ends – Calamity Jane has, surprisingly, never been seen in the West End, so this may be your only chance for a while.