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Watermill Theatre - Calamity Jane

17th July to 6th September 2014

Review from Newbury Theatre.

Call me an old fogey, but the golden age of musicals is long past. Modern musicals have dreary tunes and uninteresting words (yes, I’m talking about you, Les Mis and Phantom). In the good old days of the 40s to the 60s, musicals had tunes that were memorable and lively, with witty lyrics. Calamity Jane (1953) ticks all the boxes.

Henry Miller’s theatre in Deadwood City is struggling to get the female stars his audience craves, and when Frances Fryer arrives and turns out to be a man (Francis), things look bleak for Miller. Fast talking, gun toting, cross dressing Calamity Jane goes off to Chicago to sign up Adelaid Adams, a cigarette card beauty but comes back with the wrong woman: Katie Brown. Now the relationships start to get complicated, with Calamity and Katie fancying soldier Danny, with Danny and Wild Bill Hickok fancying Katie.

This is the latest of the Watermill’s actor/musician musicals which it does so well. Jodie Prenger is a feisty bombshell as Calamity, admired by the men for her chutzpah but not really taken seriously because of her tendency to exaggerate her exploits (“careless with the truth”). This was a most impressive performance from Prenger, at her best when belting out Deadwood Stage and Just Blew in from the Windy City but bringing pathos and emotion to Secret Love.

She is well matched by Tom Lister as Bill Hickok, confident and dapper (mostly – he might have got away with the Queen Victoria look in New York, but Deadwood?) and giving a gently lyrical rendition of My Heart Is Higher Than a Hawk.

Rob Delaney gave a good contrast to the country hicks as Francis/Frances (nice legs) and paired well with Susan (Sioned Saunders). Phoebe Street as Katie Brown transformed well from shy dresser for Adelaide (Christina Tedders) into confident and sexy singer.

The large cast (plus instruments) meant that the Watermill’s stage was a bit crowded at times, but Director Nikolai Foster’s production is fast paced, full of life and great fun. This is what a musical ought to be!


Review from the British Theatre Guide.

The Watermill Theatre Newbury has created an absolute cracker of a musical in this rousing production of Calamity Jane that fizzes with energy from the very start.

Matthew Wright’s superb design perfectly recreates the Golden Garter Saloon with its glitzy proscenium arch stage and American bunting surrounding the balcony banisters.

The attention to detail is impressive with lights in empty bean tin cans filling the auditorium. You certainly feel that you are back in 1876 in the Wild West.

The Watermill’s trademark style of using actor-musicians works a treat and it is a pure delight to watch these thirteen multi-talented actors perform with such brio.

Jodie Prenger plays the feisty, buckskin-wearing Calamity with gusto. She can outshoot any man in Deadwood and boasts of her amazing tales of adventure but then, “she’s not exactly lying but she’s careless with the truth.”

Calam is in love with Lt. Danny (Alex Hammond), but her real match is Wild Bill Hickok, a powerful spirited performance from Tom Lister. His rendition of Higher Than a Hawk is beautiful.

Anthony Dunn is the vexed owner of the saloon, Henry Miller, who has booked the voluptuous Frances Fryer to perform, much to the enthusiasm of the locals.

But when she turns out to be a man owing to a misunderstanding in the spelling of the name, things turn nasty. Rob Delaney brings an old-fashioned zest to the part of Francis Fryer.

Calam promises to bring the heartthrob Adelaid Adams from Chicago to Deadwood to perform, but things don’t go exactly to plan as she mistakes her maid for Adelaid.

Christina Tedders gives a seductive performance of The Man That I’ll Marry is Harry in the role of the diva Adelaid.

Phoebe Street is delightful as the ambitious Katie Brown who has been left Miss Adelaid’s costumes and believes that she can sing as well as the star, who has now gone on a European tour.

The stagecoach ride from The Windy City is a piece of inventive, magical theatre, but Katie’s deception does not go down well when she performs on stage and she has to reveal that she’s not the genuine Adelaid Adams.

The love triangle between Calamity, Bill and Danny becomes more complicated, but eventually she finds her Secret Love.

This is very much an ensemble show with superlative support from Jon Bonner as Doc, Paul Kissaun as Rattlesnake, Jamie Hank as Hank and Sioned Saunders playing Susan.

Choreographer Nick Winston has created some vibrant hoe-down numbers featuring Martin McCarthy and Mathew James Hinchliffe.

Directed with flair and panache by Nikolai Foster, this is a jubilant celebration of musical theatre that makes you want to join in with a very sincere YeeHa! Do catch it.


Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

All aboard for Deadwood

A rip-roaring Calamity Jane opens at The Watermill

Calamity Jane, at The Watermill, until Saturday, September 6

The interior of the Watermill has a Wild West makeover for this, the latest in the theatre's actor/musician productions, Calamity Jane, adapted for the stage by Charles K Freeman. It's an evening when you start smiling with the first single piano notes of the wistful Black Hills of Dakota and find yourself still smiling as you leave the theatre at the end of this rip-roaring production.

Doris Day, forever associated for many with the role of the feisty Calam, played it memorably and was a neat heroine. Jodie Prenger, the current whipcracking, spoons-playing incumbent of the role, is totally believable as the sturdy untidy impulsive backwoods girl with 'certain ideas about modesty'. She is quick on the trigger, friend of the chaps, teller of tales - and very vulnerable.

It is this vulnerability that Prenger captures so well, while at the same time belting out those wonderful numbers, no wonder that her career has blossomed since winning the part of Nancy in Andrew Loyd Webber's West End production of Oliver!.

Tom Lister was superbly cast as Calam's sparring partner, the handsome Wild Bill Hickok. Listening to his deep, resonant voice singing the romantic Higher Than a Hawk is a joy. It's only one of many delights of the evening, for there's the trim Phoebe Street as Katie Brown, the girl Calam brings to Deadwood to entertain the habitués of The Golden Garter and who whisks briskly and neatly about Calamity's untidy home in A Woman's Touch in contrast to the sexy It's Harry I'm Planning To Marry.

Particularly enjoyable is Rob Delaney as Francis Fryer, the nifty-footed musical performer who gets mistaken for a girl and who falls for Susan (the excellent Sioned Saunders).

There are 13 members in the cast, all of whom deserve much praise, not only for their outstanding acting, but for creating a continual, often breakneck, atmosphere whilst, occasionally, hanging over the upper banisters, slickly, turning the piano - and one wagon wheel - into a stage-coach, bursting into dance which often turns into a rumbustious hoedown, cleverly orchestrated to look like a glorious jumble - oh - and playing instruments too.

Directed by Nikolai Foster, there's nothing calamitous about this production.


There are reviews from the Basingstoke Gazette ("the Watermill has definitely done it again with this sublime whip-cracking version of the popular musical... packed with such fantastic zip and fizz that you’ll be tempted to dance your way back to your car"), ReviewsGate ("[the ensemble] act, dance and sing, often simultaneously, with energy and precision in familiar Watermill fashion"), The Stage ("there are some fine moments... the basic flaws in its structure mean all the highlights pitch up too early, and the resolution arrives as a bit of a damp squib" 3 stars), the Gazette and Herald ("boundless energy and sheer class exuded by this scintillating adaptation... the show bursts with vim and vitality, with cracking performances from all 13"), Musical Theatre Review ("does not quite hit the spot") and the Oxford Times ("you Jane, me unbelievably impressed... the urge to jump up and join in the dance numbers is almost overwhelming").