Thursday, September 21

Calamity Jane – Blackburn Empire

Ever since the fateful day that ol’ Doris put on her spurs and marched onto the film set, Calamity Jane has been a well-loved fan favourite, both on the screen and on the stage.

Celebrating 70 years of the classical movie, Blackburn Musical Theatre Company provided a week of nostalgic Wild West magic at the start of May 2023.

Amateur drama can often struggle to find a foothold in the community, with more and more choosing to turn to streaming services, or to travel further afield to see professional shows in Manchester, Liverpool etc. However, with a packed auditorium on a Friday night, I can safely say that the people in Lancashire either love the local theatre or are all massive Doris Day fans!

For those who aren’t familiar with the film or show (looking at the under 50’s here!), Calamity Jane follows the misadventures of our tomboy protagonist Calamity as she tries to help the owner of Deadwood’s hotspot ‘The Golden Garter’. Through a series of misfortunes, the proprietor Henry Miller ends up providing a show girl to the crowd of rowdy cowboys in the form of the nervous Francis Fryer… Rightfully nervous, as Francis is not a show girl, but a male actor trying to convince the crowds otherwise.

Unfortunately, when the ruse is discovered, Calamity, who, rather fond of an exaggeration or two, placates the angry crowds by insisting she can get the biggest star in Chicago to come to the Golden Garter… Miss Adelaide Adams.

Of course, in yet another case of mistaken identity, Calamity ends up bringing back plain old Katie Brown instead! And what’s worse, both Calamity’s one true love Danny Gilmartin, and her friend and verbal sparring partner Bill Hickok both fall hopelessly in love with Katie…

The excitement from the crowd in the audience was obvious, with many actively singing along to the fan favourite ‘Black Hills’ during the Overture… Most out of tune and off key, but I appreciated the spirit… and may have lent my own warbling to the crescendo… This energy was continued throughout, thanks to the brilliant chorus, whose enjoyment and delight to be on stage was obvious to all that witnessed their performance.

Lucy Roberts as Calamity kept us all laughing and enthralled thanks to her engaging and enthusiastic take on the role. Her love for Danny Gilmartin was humorously sweet… Made even more hilarious by the fact that Danny was one of the youngest members of the cast! Not quite what you would expect from the stoic and domineering army man… However, he made it work.

Alex Laing’s performance as the famous Lt. Gilmartin was wonderful to watch, and although young, he delivered unfaultable stage presence and comedic timing. During his duet ‘Love You Dearly’ with Katie Brown, Alex gave a consistent vocal performance and ensured everyone knew and felt who his true love really was.

Henry Miller came in the form of Martin Cottam, who was delightfully unhinged throughout the show; after all, his career and livelihood hinged on Calamity Jane’s questionable competence…
Martin did extremely well in what is a challenging role to expand upon. His niece Susan, played by Anna Cryer, was a wonderful match for his energy. She brought life to what can be a lacklustre character with the choice to make Susan indignant and strong, rather than placid and gentle.

Blending beautifully with Susan’s fire was Francis Fryer. Ged Case did a truly brilliant job in creating a timid and frightened character, which created an excellent juxtaposition between the two love birds.

His two vocal performances were one of the most enjoyable of the evening for me, especially when he was transformed into Miss Frances Fryer with an E… and thrust into a show girl’s outfit! Aided with the chorus’ roaring enthusiasm and then roaring outrage when the deception was revealed, the audience joined the crescendo with much laughter. Bravo to all on stage throughout that number, it was excellently done.

Wild Bill Hickok, played by Jason Shields was another remarkable character performance. Surrounded by the silly and camp characters that Calamity Jane is known and loved for, Jason’s stoic and unamused portrayal was very intriguing and provided great contrast.

Calamity then goes to Chicago to bring back the infamous Adelaide Adams.
We arrive in Miss Adams’ dressing room, where Charlie Dearden had an excellent cameo as Adelaide. She was wonderfully vicious to poor Katie Brown and embodied the fake niceties to her love struck ‘Johnny’s’ with gusto. The ‘Johnny’s’, who gathered around Miss Adams to provide over the top praise and camp adoration were absolutely hilarious – a tongue in cheek reference to the fixation society has on celebrities.

Katie Brown, who was played by seasoned Am-dram actress Jennifer Whiteside, was captivating to watch from start to finish. Her chemistry with every character she interacted with was fabulous and brought even more life to an already lively show.

When Katie and Calamity got together, the show rose up another level from incredibly enjoyable, to a professional level. ‘A Woman’s Touch’ was another stand out number for me (and the surrounding audience!), with much toe tapping and smiles to be had as they danced and sang Calamity’s cabin into a home for the two of them.

Wild Bill’s rendition of ‘Higher than a Hawk’ was without fault, effortlessly breaking down the walls we had previously seen from Jason. From foreboding gun slinger to love struck romantic! It was a number that we needed to ensure that his later love for Calamity wasn’t out of place.

The show went on, and everyone eventually fell in love with the right person, and all was well in Deadwood!

Calamity Jane is a musical that is very easy to get wrong with the incorrect casting, sets and costumes, and although some of the costumes seemed a little bit bright and cheerful for the dirt ridden town of Deadwood, it was an amazing show.

My standout performances were:

Ged Case as Francis Fryer in ‘Hive Full of Honey’

Craig Hall as Rattlesnake in… anytime he came on stage, the man was an absolute riot!
Lucy Roberts and the cast as Calamity Jane and the townsfolk in ‘Careless with the truth’
Lucy Roberts and Jennifer Whiteside in ‘A Woman’s Touch’

and the cast in the ‘Black Hills of Dakota’

Accolades and congratulations to the directors Tony Fry, Gary Worthy and Nick Sanders and all involved at Blackburn Musical Theatre Company!

Reviewer: Carly Webber

Reviewed: 12th May 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.