The Belgrade Theatre production of 'Calamity Jane' has just completed an extensive British tour and I am sure it has brought joy wherever the Deadwood Stage tied up. That certainly proved the case when it reached the Sadler's Wells Theatre in London.
Had patrons gone along expecting to see the Warner Bros. film of Doris Day fame then they may have suffered a degree of disappointment. However, the open minded in the auditorium, who took into account the fact that stage productions (by their very nature) have limitations, would have accepted this piece of theatre with sheer delight. The director, Paul Kerryson, made great play of the restrictions, with the cast shamelessly hamming up the motion of mechanical horses in a chase! Set changes were simple (Calamity's cabin was rotated for internal and external scenes) yet very effective and quite spectacular in the case of the show performance by 'Miss Adelaide Adams', the famous actress who Calamity tries to bring back from Chicago to Deadwood.
As Calamity Jane, Gemma Craven's boundless energy and enthusiasm were infectious from the first moment she rode in shooting at the pursuing indians, while her rapport with the audience when wandering the stalls at one point - collecting chocolates and sweets to deliver to 'Miss Adams' - was a pleasure to see.
Stephen put in a very solid performance with his portrayal of Wild Bill Hickok, the hard driinking, cigar smoking, fast shooting gambler who discovers his heart has a secret love just like Calamity's. It was well worth the ticket price to see Stephen in full Indidan squaw costume for one scene, as Hickok fulfills his side of a bet when Calamity brings 'Miss Adams' to town, while it is his revenge at discovering the singer is really Katie Brown, Miss Adam's dresser, which finds Calamity hanging from the ceiling of Deadwood's Theatre, The Golden Garter, at the end of Act One.
The competitive edge between Hickok and Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin for the hand of Katie Brown was convincingly portrayed with many a comical twist and turn as Calamity believes Danny is really in love with her. Grace Kinirons performance as Katie deserves special praise, the perfect female foil for Calamity in this foursome.
As good as the story of Calamity Jane is, it's real charm lies in the music - songs the audience will still be humming when they leave the theatre. 'The Deadwood Stage' and 'Windy City' certainly had toes tapping, while one of my personal favourites is 'The Black Hills of Dakota', sung mainly by the chorus on the way to 'The Dance at The Fort', where we were treated to some well choreographed dancing which Stephen executed perfectly. It was so good to hear Stephen singing on stage again, something he hasn't done in a while, chiefly in 'I Can Do Without You', a duet with Gemma, and a solo in 'Higher Than a Hawk'. One twist that I really liked was the way 'Secret Love', probably the song of the show, was moved to the end when Calamity sings it to Bill. I don't think I was the only one to still be wiping away a tear as the company gathered for the finale and the audience clapped in time to the reprise of earlier songs.
Review by Viv Gurney (1996)