Saturday, August 18, 2018


Nigel Ubrihien (MD) - Anthony Gooley (Wild Bill Hickock) - Virginia Gay (Calamity Jane)
 Laura Bunting (Kate Brown) - Mathew Pearce (Lt. Danny Martin)

Photo: John McRae
Directed by Richard Carroll – Musical Direction by Nigel Ubrihien
Choreographed by Cameron Mitchell – Designed by Lauren Peters

Lighting Design by Trent Suidgeest – Sound design by Camden Young
Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse – 16th – 19th August 2018

Reviewed by Bill Stephens                                                                                                       

Big, bold, brash and brassy, this exuberant re-imagining of the 1950’s cult film, which starred Doris Day as Calamity Jane, hits the bull’s eye in every department. The deceptively rough-and- ready presentation, disguises a brilliant concept by Richard Carroll,  in which a cast of just seven accomplished actors, and one-hard working musical director, fill the stage with all the characters necessary to breathe new life into this almost forgotten musical.

Tony Taylor as Henry Miller in "Calamity Jane"

Photo: Jeff Busby
Lauren Peters has designed an evocative environment which effectively converts the Playhouse into the ramshackle wild western saloon, with audience members seated around tables on stage, and fairy lights reaching out into the auditorium, to create an immersive experience for everyone else. Her decidedly unglamorous costumes strike exactly the right note.

And who needs an orchestra when the actors can play their own instruments? Tubas, trombones, ukuleles, drums and a revolving piano, are called into service as required. Some songs are even sung acapella, particularly effectively for “The Black Hills of Dakota”. Wigs, mustaches and even members of the on-stage audience, are utilized by the cast to conjure up a myriad of supporting players to hilarious effect, with the audience included in the fun addressed directly with topical asides and comments.

Central to the success of this concept is Virginia Gay’s brilliant performance as Calamity Jane. Gay has created a remarkably authentic character, whose confusion as to how she fits in, is disguised under a bumptious exterior. Her attempts to emanate the men around her are hilarious, and her confusion at her feminine responses ignited by her friendship with blow-in Katie Brown, are genuinely touching.

Perhaps the real surprise of this production is how well each of the actors are able to snap out of the hilarity of the horse-play to focus moments that are often quite moving in their authenticity as the story progresses. Laura Bunting, captivating as Katie Brown, Anthony Gooley, wonderfully ridiculous as Wild Bill Hickock, Sheridan Harbridge, saucy and sophisticated in contrasting roles as Susan and Adelaide Adams, Rob Johnson, rather  adorable  as the gormless Francis Fryer, Matthew Pearce both funny and sincere as the hunky Lt. Danny Gilmartin, and Tony Taylor, hilariously and continuously frustrated as Henry Miller, each contribute special qualities to their characterizations which make this production particularly memorable. Oh, and that hard working Musical Director, Nigel Ubrihien, proves not  only a dab-hand on the revolving piano, but quite the master at creating his own memorable moments.

Tony Taylor (Henry Miller) - Virginia Gay (Calamity Jane) - Sheridan Harbridge (Susan Miller)

Photo: Jeff Busby

Though this Canberra season of “Calamity Jane” is all too short, this production is moving to Belvoir Street Theatre in Sydney for an extended season and you’d be mad to miss it.

This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS  on 17.08.18