Monday, 30 November -0001


Without the incomparable Doris Day it won’t blow your socks off , but this show has some great tunes

Written by Richard Barber
Richard-Barber-176It’s hard to see how any production could outshine the movie, which made such an indelible impression, but here’s a new staging of Calamity Jane. Yet while it never quite soars to the heights of the cinematic original, there’s plenty to enjoy – not least the songbook – in a simple story set in a smoky saloon in Deadwood, in the shadow of those black hills of Dakota (cue the much-reprised opening number).

I caught it early in its extensive tour in Wimbledon – the fi nal date is in Richmond early in August – and the Thursday matinee crowd were clearly won over by its easy charm. Loosely based on the life of Wild West heroine Calamity Jane (Jodie Prenger), the story explores her alleged romance with Wild Bill Hickok (Tom Lister).

Devised by Warner Brothers following the success of Annie Get Your Gun, the fi lm starred Doris Day as the titular gunslinger and Howard Keel as Hickok. And to be blunt, that’s really the problem.

Lister, familiar to TV audiences as Carl King in Emmerdale, has a pleasing and melodic tenor voice; his rendition of Higher Than A Hawk, sung to his own acoustic guitar, is lovely. But I never really believed that his combative relationship with Calam (to her friends) would have crossed the line from rage to rapture.

Prenger, winner of the TV search to fi nd a Nancy for a new production of Oliver!, is good on the comedy, excellent on the accent and has a fi ne pair of lungs. But she ain’t Doris Day (well, there is only one). So she’s fi ne with all the whip-crack-aways as the Deadwood stage is a-headin’ on over the hills. But the show’s outstanding number, Secret Love – it won an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1954 – requires rather more than giving it both barrels. You yearn for a little poignancy.

In terms of compatibility, the second couple, Adelaid Adams impostor Katie Brown (pretty, tuneful Phoebe Street) and handsome Lt Danny Gilmartin (Alex Hammond), fare better. There’s plenty of talent, too, among an ensemble who can sing, dance and really play their instruments.

So, while it won’t blow your socks off , this is an agreeable couple of hours that at the very least will have you whistling a happy tune as you head off to that little house on the prairie.

On tour until 8 August:

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