Calamity Jane, Buxton Opera House

calamity jane bohSeeing a 1950s American musical in a British opera house makes perfect sense – it makes clear the lineage from opera to musical.

Let’s not get into arguments about how good the music and songs of one are compared to the other, rather enjoy and value what each has to offer.

Calamity Jane draws loosely on a seemingly implausible romance between the tomboyish Martha Jane Cannary (‘Calam’ – Jodie Prenger) and Wild Bill Hickok (Tom Lister).

The story – about bringing a bit a city glamour to an outpost such as Deadwood and the subsequent romance – is something to hang the songs and dancing onto.

Casual acquaintances of the musical will recognise only a handful a songs in “Calamity Jane” – but that hardly matters, the whole score is easy on the ear.

The cast shares duties as musicians, singers and dancers and that gives an immediacy and vibrancy to the production which is sharply choreographed (by Nick Winston) and scored (by Catherine Jayes).

In a show which moves crisply, energetically and imaginatively from scene to scene there is much to notice and admire: be it a four-handed piano piece by Frances Fryer (Bobby Delaney) and Susan (Sioned Saunders) or Rattlesnake’s (Paul Kissaun) low-low vocal solo.

The set is imaginatively designed (Matthew Wright) and lit (Richard Jones) enabling the action – be it in the bar, a Chicago theatre or on the stagecoach – to proceed fluently with a focus on the narrative.

Whilst this is very much an ensemble show the set pieces are beautifully delivered. “The Deadwood Trail (Whip-Crack-Away)” sets the standard early on and Jodie Prenger sings her solo (“Secret Love”) with directness and charm. Finally, brush up on the lyrics of “The Black Hills of Dakota” so you can join in with the finale.

The first-night audience at Buxton was clearly captivated by “Calamity Jane” and the applause was enthusiastic.

This is an ‘old-fashioned’ musical which aims to please, entertain and delight; it succeeds on all counts.

Calamity Jane is at Buxton Opera House until May 30. For tickets go to http://www.buxtonoperahouse.org.uk

By Keith Savage

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