Calamity Jane

Date 17th November 2016
Society Winchester Musicals & Opera Society
Venue Theatre Royal, Winchester
Type of Production Musical
Director Liz Petley-Jones
Musical Director John Sparrow
Choreographer Chrissy Finn


Author: Bob Heather

Calamity Jane can outrun and outshoot any man in Deadwood. Hard, boastful and desperate to impress, she travels to Chicago on the Deadwood Stage to recruit actress and singing star, Adelaide Adams. But things don't go too smoothly for Calamity as she struggles to keep her jealousy and pride in check when everyone favours the new girl in town. It eventually takes her long standing adversary Wild Bill Hickok to make her see sense and realise her Secret Love.

As we took our seats in the auditorium we were greeted by an old timer playing the honky-tonk piano with a good variety of old tunes. The lights went down and the band struck up with the overture. Instead of staring at the curtains or an unoccupied stage through the overture, we were treated to the chorus busy on stage cleaning the Golden Garter saloon and moving furniture all in time with the music. We also had several of the cast with smaller roles acting mini scenarios of life in a western saloon, giving the audience a flavour of life in an out-of-the-way mining town in South Dakota during the 1800’s gold rush.

Once the overture had finished the show started in earnest, but for some reason, the sound wasn’t clear and the spoken lines were lost as the words seemed to be at ceiling level, going right over the top of the audience - however they managed to get it under control within the first few minutes of the show.

Apart from the little glitch with the sound, the only thing I found which is quite annoying for discerning audience members, was that quite a few times the cast could be seen in the wings awaiting their entrance. Apart from that, the whole show was little short of being brilliant.

Emma Jane Smith rollicked on stage in her buckskins and captured the audience straight away. She had a good strong voice and handled all her songs very well; she also looked perty as a picture when Katie Brown managed to get her to wear her dresses.

Iain Steel was ideal in the role of Wild Bill Hickok. He looked the part, had a great accent and was absolutely breathtaking with his songs, really looking like the Wild Bill we all imagine.

Adrian Hickford played Wild Bill’s best friend, but enemy in love, Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin very well. His voice, actions and characterisation were spot on.

Katy Brown was the singer that Calamity bought to Deadwood by mistake, thinking it was the great Adelaide Adams. She was played by Kimberly James, the chalk to Calamity’s cheese. They looked good on stage together and Kimberly had a charming and pretty voice to go with her character. The role was splendidly cast.

Annie Tatnall as Adelaide Adams, has a wonderful voice, but the audience must have felt robbed, as they only got to hear one song from her in this cameo role.

Henry Miller the owner of the Golden Garter, Frances Fryer, the actor that Miller booked thinking he was an actress, and Rattlesnake the stage coach driver and general roustabout, were all very well portrayed by Andrew Hodgson, Simon Meanwell-Ralf and Hamish McDonald respectively. As did Lucy Hutchings who played Miller’s pretty daughter Susan.

The dancing girls were all great and I particularly like the cameo of one of them dancing the can-can very reluctantly with a look on her face showing just how teed-off she was at having to do it. I wish I knew who the actress was, but the dancers weren’t named individually in the programme.

Everyone else played their parts well and the whole thing worked beautifully all doubling up as stage-hands moving the set about between scenes.

The set was very well designed and comprised mainly of a large double set of steps that was moved, spun round and twisted about to become all the different locations throughout the show. Top marks to the set designer. The lighting by Michael Shillito and Chris Brown was just right for the show, it worked perfectly. Choreography was energetic, but simply staged was all due to the hard work of Chrissy Finn.

Musical Director John Sparrow did a great leading the thirteen piece orchestra, who were in tune for every number. Not a bum note was heard.

Director, Liz Petley-Jones who played the part of Clam for WMOS back in 1989, knew exactly what she wanted from this production – her vision, and I think she achieved it splendidly. This was one whip-crack-away of a show.