Friday, August 17, 2018


Adapted by Ronald Hamner and Phil Park
From the stage play by Charles K. Freeman
After Warner Bros. Film written by James O’Hanlon
Lyrics by Paul Francis Webster
Music by Sammy Fain
Directed by Richard Carroll
One Eyed Man productions in association with Neglected Musicals & Hayes Theatre Co.
The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre to 19 August

Reviewed by Len Power 16 August 2018

It can be hard to warm to a new stage version of a beloved movie classic especially when that movie had an iconic performer in the leading role.  In 1953, Doris Day played rough, tough Calamity Jane in a colourful original movie musical with great songs.  It was itself reminiscent of Irving Berlin’s earlier stage musical, ‘Annie Get Your Gun’.

Richard Carroll’s production takes the story elements and the songs from the movie and subsequent stage version and fashions them into an entertainment that is an original take on the material.  The result instantly grabs you and gives you one of the most entertaining nights in the theatre imaginable.

Set in Deadwood, South Dakota in the American Old West, the farcical story centres on the life of Wild West heroine Calamity Jane and her rocky romance with Wild Bill Hickok.  Most of the plot takes place in the Golden Garter saloon bar and the small cast are joined onstage by a group of audience members who find themselves drawn into the action.

Virginia Gay and cast with onstage audience members - Photo by Jeff Busby

Virginia Gay as Calamity Jane gives a wonderfully funny performance, instantly dispelling any comparisons with Doris Day.  She makes this role her own with a strong, unique characterization, superb comic timing and fine singing.  Her quietly wistful version of ‘The Black Hills Of Dakota’ accompanying herself on banjo is a highlight of the show.

Virginia Gay and cast - Photo by John McRae

The seven other cast members play a high energy group of crazy characters who display a real humanity as well as being hilariously funny.  Musical director, Nigel Ubrihien, is the saloon’s piano player and is just as funny as the rest of the cast while playing the appealing musical numbers.  Various cast members also play musical instruments in the show, too.

The attractive saloon bar set designed by Lauren Peters has a simplicity and period feel that works very well.  The use of the lights strung above the stage to give a barroom atmosphere also work nicely as a starry sky for ‘The Black Hills of Dakota’ song.  The costumes by Peters have been thoughtfully designed in keeping with the period.  Calamity Jane’s wedding dress, for example, looks like it was made by someone with little money and with whatever materials could be found in an old West town in that period.

From start to finish, this was a hugely enjoyable show with great performances from every member of the cast.  It’s a show that will be remembered with as much affection as the classic movie, but for its own special reasons.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast in his ‘On Stage’ performing arts radio program on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3.30pm on Artsound FM 92.7.