Review: Calamity Jane at the New Alex Theatre

I love the famous Doris Day film of Calamity Jane so I jumped at the chance to see Birmingham’s own musical theatre company’s staging of this classic tale.

Cleverly adapted from Charles K Freeman’s original play and powerfully influenced by the film version, in their hands it comes across as nothing less than one of the best musical comedies of all time and this sterling company, new to me, did it full justice.

Calamity Jane

Calamity Jane

In case you don’t know, Calamity Jane is set in frontier town Deadwood City, part of the wild west’s Dakota Territory, in 1876 with a motley cast of comic characters unimproved by progress. The action centres on the Golden Garter saloon and the complications ensuing when star turn Adelaide Adams is booked only for her maid to turn up instead as an impersonator.

Along the way its central character evolves from the tomboyish Calamity by learning from her how to be a lady, and the action’s crowned with a joyous double wedding. It’s funny, moving, and has some of the best tunes ever invented.

In this large cast there are so many marvellous character performances it’s hard to single any one out, even the tiniest roles brought to vivid life by attention to detail.

John Spencer as saloon owner Henry Miller hits just the right note as Deadwood City’s benign maitre d’, while Jake Genders is perfect as Francis Fryer, his first wrongly-booked act. Carys Wilson is completely outstanding as the second wrong booking, Abigail Adams impersonator Katie Brown, giving a performance of touching sincerity, ably abetted by Mark Walsh as her beau Danny, while Alistair Joliffe sporting a marvellous musical-comedy style and voice to match is quite brilliant as Wild Bill Hickock.

But there’s always a star, and here it’s indubitably Lichfield’s own Faye O’Leary as Calam whose journey towards love includes turning from a matey tomboy into a gracious and beautiful bride.

This is a rip-roaring hurricane of a show, a triumphantly magical evening of musical comedy full of knockout numbers with wonderful sets and marvellous costumes in a night packed with stars.

Director Stephen Duckham ably abetted by Musical Director David Easto, Choreographer Sally Joliffe, Producer John Spencer and Stage Managers Oliver Jeavons and Chris Johnson head up a company of actors, technicians, backstage crew and musicians who make the whole night seem effortlessly airy. I can’t wait to see what they’re going to come up with next.

Calamity Jane runs at Birmingham’s New Alexandra Theatre until tomorrow (June 18). For tickets go online or phone on 0844 871 3011.

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