Well, of course Andrew came to this one. Why wouldn’t he? It’s based on one of his favourite film musicals, which, as it happens, he muddles up with another of his favourite musicals (unless it’s at the Young Vic with Jane Horrocks), Annie Get Your Gun. But then they both feature rootin’-tootin’ cowgirls as a central character. Phil’s been know to confuse his suede-clad, fringe accessorised heroines too.
So this is Calamity Jane then, based on the 1953 Doris Day movie. Did Phil ever mention he was once on a Beverly Hills Stars’ Homes Tour with his sister and she spotted a head square-wearing Doris, cycling along without a care in the world, so the driver reversed the minibus and followed her and she waved back and shouted hello to them? Probably. He took a picture of her. He’ll dig it out and share it with you one day.
The music is by Sammy Fain and the lyrics by Paul Francis Webster. And what music and lyrics they are, “The Deadwood Stage (Whip-Crack-Away)”, “Just Blew in from the Windy City”, “A Woman’s Touch”, “Black Hills of Dakota”, the Oscar-winning “Secret Love”. Even the numbers added for the stage version are surprisingly good.
The playfully silly plot centres around the local saloon bar, the Golden Garter in Deadwood, that struggles to get women to perform on the stage. A case of mistaken identity – as it’s Francis with an “i”, not Frances with an “e” – sees Francis Farmer (Bobby Delaney) drag up and offer up his “Hive Full of Honey”. Surely this song only got past the censors in those days as it’s performed by a man dressed as a woman? Delaney makes a very good fist of the number, but it doesn’t go down well with the local cowboys. We were more than satisfied. Perhaps we’re just not red-blooded enough. Discuss.
So Calamity (Jodie Prenger) heads off to Chic-ar-ger to try and get cigarette card pin up gal Adelaid Adams to come back and perform for the lads. More mistaken identity and comedy chaos ensues. Could a very unlikely romance be in the air between grubby tomboy Calamity and Wild Bill Hickok (Tom Lister)? It’s a musical. Work that out for yourselves.
It took a while for Phil to adjust to Matthew Wright’s single saloon bar design which has to adapt to all the locations. Ah, the economies of touring. Pianos and chairs are reconfigured into stagecoaches. You know the kind of thing. Effective lighting by Richard G Jones is on hand to assist our imaginations. The cast also double as the orchestra. Ah, the economies of touring. Nikolai Foster directs but John (let’s-dispense-with-the-orchestra) Doyle has plenty to answer for. The cast play their instruments splendidly (one of them, Paul Kissaun, was in The Flying Pickets) and it works in the context. It gave Andrew and Phil their usual interval topic of conversation at these sorts of shows. How do they find people who can do all this and how complicated is the understudying? Prenger reveals a particularly impressive talent playing the spoons. And if that sounds like sarcasm it’s not intended.
There’s a very agreeable overture, of sorts, played on a banjo, and though the music was a little muddy for the opening number it settled down especially when Lister started warbling. Easy on the eye, good set of lungs and clear as a bell. His second act delivery of “My Heart Is Higher Than a Hawk (Deeper Than a Well)” as he strums a guitar was Phil’s musical highlight. Lister’s understated performance all but walks away with the show.
Prenger has a high likeability factor, a belting voice, and adds some amusing comedic moments to the proceedings; her eyebrows appear to come off the same template as Tyne Daly’s and are more arched than Reims Cathedral.
Oh, and theatrical royalty, Bonnie Langford was sitting just a few seats from us. Now we wish she’d played Calamity at some point. Maybe she did? Can’t be bothered to look it up.
The hoedown at the end is one of the best curtain calls you’ll see. Andrew and Phil did something they never normally do in the stalls; they started clapping along until they realised what they were doing and thought better of it.
Calamity Jane is at Wimbledon until this Saturday and Tom Lister has inveigled the cast into cycling to their next venue in Manchester in aid of the charity, Hope for Justice. That’s if they’ve any energy left. You can see them in rehearsal for it here and maybe even put your hands in your pockets to lend support. Well, at least it might stop you clapping along to the hoedown.