Date 7th December 2019
Society Newcastle Glees Musical Society
Venue Annesley Hall, Newcastle
Type of Production Musical
Director Laura Kerr
Musical Director Mark Tilley
Choreographer Clare Donnelly


Author: Sheelagh Hobart

Calamity Jane musical is loosely based on the historical character Martha-Jane Canary, an American frontierswoman and professional scout, and her association with Wild Bill Hickok. The show premiered in the US in 1961 but not until 1974 in the UK. Down the years many famous actresses have taken the titular role – Ginger Rogers, Betty Hutton, Lynda La Plante, Brenda Blethyn, Barbara Windsor, Gemma Craven, Toyah Willcox, Jodie Prenger! It is an audience favourite and can practically guarantee full houses!

Newcastle glees’ set was an authentic “Golden Garter” saloon/hotel with shallow stage at the back, complete with footlights. A corner Bar was situated at the front of the auditorium stage right which was utilised in the action and also by the audience during the interval. Adelaide Adams’ dressing room was an inset in front of halfway tabs and Calam’s cabin was a nice wood backed inset using about 2/3rds of the stage. Props for this scene included the table which rotated from empty to afternoon tea, Curtains which rotated from sackcloth to pretty chintz and empty sills which became flower filled window boxes. The only problem was that net curtains were on the outside of the cabin and window boxes on the inside! Wigs and hairstyles were suitable and costumes bright and authentic. I especially liked your very suitable wedding outfit – white deerskins rather than feminine wedding dress. Lighting enhanced the various scene moods and sound quality was also good with effects on cue.

In spite of the Chorus being female heavy there were balanced harmonies and the men produced a good sound when on their own. It was nice to see the ‘old hands’ joining in for “Black Hills of Dakota” and, with words provided, many audience members enjoyed joining in too! The accordian player was a nice addition.  Minor principal roles such as Hank (Jack Reilly), Pete (Gordon Donaldson), Rattlesnake (Dessie Murphy) and the Colonel (John Cushnan) were well covered while the ever present Bartender Joe (Daniel McCormack) put his all into the role. Orla Russell sang “It’s Harry I’m planning to marry” as Adelaide Adams with the dancers very well and was suitably ‘prima donna-ish’ when alone with her maid! It was great to see (President) Eamon McMullan playing Doc Pierce at the ripe old age of 87 – that must be an ambition for all of us!!

Francis McKinney made his mark as Francis Fryer with his dance number “Everyone complains about the Weather” and

coped well in his comedy drag “Hive full of Honey”! He and Fiona Keane as Susan had good onstage rapport, showing their burgeoning relationship with each other. Her onstage uncle Henry Miller, the saloon proprietor was played in frenetic manner by Andrew Hill as he frustrated in his efforts to bring an actress to perform in the Golden Garter.

Newcomer to the Glees was James Cooper as Lieut. Danny Gilmartin – reluctant love interest for Calamity and subsequently real love of Katie. James looked a little nervous but sang well – I hope he stays around to become more confident on stage. Opposite James was the more experienced Suzanne Smyth as Katie. She showed natural empathy with fellow principals and, as Katie turns out to be quite a performer, Suzanne’s dancing and singing were excellent – a heart-warming performance.

Having played some prestigious roles in amateur South Wales musicals, Tim Reynolds has come home to N.Ireland and

played Wild Bill Hickok in this production. He had a very pleasing voice and good rapport with Emma Nugent as Calamity. The two of them perfectly sparked off each other in “I can do Without You” but showed their soft and tender sides in “Higher than a Hill” and “Secret Love”. Emma claimed to have found her role as Calam her most challenging yet but it didn’t show – even by the final night. Hers was a high energy portrayal of the woman ‘who could outshoot any man in Deadwood’. The character - boastful and desperate to impress – Emma brought plenty of comedy but also showing vulnerability as she struggled with jealousy. An assured and accomplished performance.

MD Mark controlled his 10 piece orchestra without ever overwhelming those on stage. Incidental music covering scene changes were well timed. Choreographer Clare’s dance routines were well rehearsed and precise – her young dancers were delightful and their Can-can well executed. Laura took this good old-fashioned musical and directed it in a new way – cabaret style. Laura herself took part in the chorus after introducing the performance with usual safety announcements in exuberant manner. She and Clare coped with the limited small stage by utilising the auditorium at times, making it a truly immersive production which moved at a ‘whip cracking’ pace.

My thanks to everyone involved – production team, on stage, back stage, front of house et al. It was a really special production. Now – Happy Christmas and a great 2020 to all.