REVIEW: Calamity Jane – Motherwell Theatre

The Deadwood stage has galloped into Motherwell courtesy of Our Lady’s Musical Society. Using the real-life adventures of Wild West frontierswoman Martha Jane Cannary as its inspiration, the musical of Calamity Jane is based on the much-loved 1953 Doris Day movie.

With a quite frankly preposterous plot, that at times is unfathomable: saloon owner Henry Miller is under the impression he’s hired famous actress Frances Fryer to perform, but when very male Francis arrives, Calamity rides out to bring backstage sweetheart Adelaide Adams to save the day (why it’s not the elusive Frances Fryer, I don’t know) thus ensues yet another case of mistaken identity that does nothing to help Calamity’s disastrous reputation. Throw into the mix some unrequited love and there you have it.

This is a musical choc full of familiar tunes, so familiar the audience sing along to the overture, however, they are delivered with mixed success. The big ensemble show-stoppers are the winners of the evening – The Black Hills of Dakota is particularly fine. A lack of crisp diction and tuning issues (and at times wandering off score, especially in a peculiar Secret Love) rendered many of Calamity’s best-known tunes almost unrecognisable. There’s also a fine line to tread when playing this part, whilst Calamity is as tough as they come, there’s also a vulnerability to her, which here, was completely trampled over in the gruff characterisation.

The issue of diction was prevalent throughout, not helped by under-amplification – many of the dialogue sequences were very garbled, particularly Calamity’s (Shiranne Burns). This year Christopher Morris, arguably the most talented company member, is the object of Calamity’s desire Lt. Danny Gilmartin, and only gets to showcase his wonderful voice in Love You Dearly. Along with Morris, it is Ray O’Sullivan’s Wild Bill Hickok that shines, his fabulously toned voice is perfectly suited to the era when this piece was created.

There’s still enough here to entertain, but with such iconic and well-loved material you have to tread carefully and deliver the highest quality. An admirable attempt but not without its faults.