|Date||16th April 2016|
|Society||Essex Police Musical Society|
|Venue||Essex Police HQ|
|Type of Production||Musical|
|Musical Director||Nik Graham|
Author: Stewart Adkins
It is fortunate indeed that EPMS was able to celebrate its 50th Anniversary by reprising Calamity Jane rather than Gypsy Love, Call Me Madam or Maid of the Mountains which many societies would have been performing in 1966. While younger members of the audience may not remember Doris Day and Howard Keel, Calamity Jane has a timeless quality about it which allows it to appeal to all ages. Perhaps it is the combination of rambunctious cross-dressing and pantomime elements that appeals but I suspect that the intertwined stories of love and the classic ugly duckling have deep roots in us all.
Whatever the reasons for Calamity Jane’s persistent hold on its audience EPMS did full justice to them all. Here was life, love, humour and fun all wrapped up in a colourful and exuberant package. The sets and backcloths were excellent, and good use was made of the limited stage space, including the raised landing and stairs, as well as the auditorium (for the Black Hills ensemble). Costumes were good, particularly for the principals and dancers. Full marks to the back stage dressers for changing Calamity into her bedraggled costume in Act Two. The balance between stage and orchestra pit was just right, with no hint of drowning out dialogue during underscoring. I did wonder whether the four-piece band would provide the richness of sound that I was used to in a larger theatre but while acknowledging that some compromise was inevitable in a small venue one’s ear soon acclimatized to the overall soundscape and it ceased to become an issue. Choreography was generally restricted to the four dancers with limited movement for the chorus but this worked really well, especially given the space constraints.
The eponymous heroine, played by Grace Ward, grew more confident with every minute of stage time, never anticipating the jokes at her expense and showing us both her hard and softer sides. This was an excellent performance. Ross Rogers was a confident Wild Bill Hickok and like Paul Walker’s Francis Fryer, made great use of facial expressions that carried well across the footlights. Jess Merriam’s Katie Brown was nicely delivered, hesitant and shy in Act One and more forceful in Act Two, providing a good contrast with Justina Bartley’s professional persona as Adelaide Adams. James Knapp’s Danny Gilmartin, who doesn’t do much until Act 2, was well characterized and the jealous rivalry scene in Calamity’s cabin was very good. Henry Miller, played by Phil Merriam, maintained his anxious, cigar-chomping, impresario role throughout and each of the minor principals did well. Overall this was a lovely production, confident without being arrogant, relaxed without being complacent, and a fitting celebration of fifty years as a musical society.