Calamity Jane

Preview:

New Earswick Musical Society present Calamity Jane, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, May 4 to 7

Friday 29th April 2011

New Earswick Musical Society has been staging two productions a year at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre since 1968, but never before has it performed Calamity Jane.

Produced and choreographed by Ann McCreadie, with musical direction by Don Pears, Hollywood’s “greatest Western musical” will run at the York theatre from Wednesday to Saturday at 7.30pm nightly.

The character of the naive but good-hearted Calamity Jane, played by Jo Pears, is based loosely on the life of Martha Burke, who “tried to behave like a man but couldn’t help lovin’ like a woman”. She was best known for her claim to be an acquaintance of Wild Bill Hickok (BBC Radio York presenter Dougie Weake).

The story centres on Calamity’s efforts to save the Golden Garter Theater at Deadwood, South Dakota, by bringing singing star Adelaide Adams (McCreadie) from Chicago to Henry Miller’s theatre to appease the male clientele.

Unfortunately, poor Calamity believes Katie Brown (Stephanie Crossley) is Adelaide, when she is only her maid, mistakenly taking her to Deadwood to perform to the gold prospectors.

Comic repercussions ensue, along with misunderstandings, broken friendships and heartbreak, as Katie steals the love of Calamity’s life, Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin (Paul Blenkiron), until it dawns on her and Wild Bill that they have been in love all along.

Further comedy is provided in the shapely shape of Steve Padfield’s Francis Fryer, a role that calls on him to take on the guise of a woman, just as he did last year when playing Josephine in Sugar. This time, the character’s name leads to confusion, as Francis is believed to be Frances, forcing him to adopt female attire.

The stage show is adapted from the 1953 film starring Doris Day and Howard Keel and its score by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster features such much-loved melodies as Deadwood Stage, The Black Hills Of Dakota, A Woman’s Touch, Keep it Under Your Hat, Higher Than A Hawk and the Oscar-winning Secret Love.

Review:

Calamity Jane, New Earswick Musical Society, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York

Friday 6th May 2011

APPARENTLY Calamity averted a calamity at Tuesday’s dress rehearsal, after actress Jo Pears spotted material alight and flames as high as five feet at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre.

Thankfully, a fire extinguisher did its duty, but nevertheless the attendance of two fire engines necessitated the termination of the all-important rehearsal.

Such are the unpredictable dramas of theatre but, as ever, the show must go on, in this case New Earswick Musical Society’s first staging of Calamity Jane in 43 years.

Producer-choreographer Ann McCreadie and her cast pulled through with flying colours at Wednesday’s first night, the performance benefiting from the presence of seasoned performers in prominent roles: not only Pears as the feisty tomboy Calamity Jane but also Dougie Weake as Wild Bill Hickock and McCreadie herself as singing star Adelaide Adams.

Best known for the 1953 film with Doris Day, Hollywood’s “greatest Western musical” is the story of good-hearted Calamity Jane, who “tried to behave like a man but couldn’t help lovin’ like a woman”.

In obligatory buckskins and britches, hands on her gun belt, Pears has the game gal spot on, an abrasive livewire with a tendency to exaggerate (or “fantasticate” as Wild Bill calls it) and quite the loudest pistol you ever did hear. So loud, in fact, that it still startles you each time it goes off.

Pears’s performance is even more of a blast, and her serenading singing of Secret Love is a particular high point, opposite Weake’s fine, upstanding big Bill in this romantic scene. She sets the comic tone, while he is every inch the old-fashioned leading man, his voice as strong as his grip, especially for Higher Than A Hawk.

Calamity Jane is a fun musical and is played in that spirit by principals and company alike, from the opening ensemble rendition of The Deadwood Stage at The Golden Garter, the financially stricken theatre run by Henry Miller (Adrian Clay, who needs to speak louder, shout if necessary, over the orchestra at the outset, but then gives a most engaging performance).

No one has more fun than a cross-dressing Steve Padfield, a riot of yellow and black as he sings Hive Full Of Honey in the guise of New York entertainer Frances Fryer.

Stephanie Crossley is in fine voice as Katie Brown, the young maid and wannabe singer mistaken for Adelaide Adams when Calamity comes a’calling in Chicago to ask Adelaide to help save the theatre.

Paul Blenkiron’s smitten Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin sings heartily too and, as with all the playing, he balances sincerity with a hint of tongue in cheek.

One or two supporting players need to attend to their not-so-American accents, but the ensemble songs are a joy, most notably Windy City and the lamp-lit The Black Hills Of Dakota.

Don Pears and his band add to the enjoyment with their lively accompaniment, and Deadwood City is very much alive in New Earswick’s hands.

By Charles Hutchinson

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