I never knew there were so many different kinds of gingham. In the (surprisingly perfunctory) wedding finale of Calamity Jane, designer Simon Higlett has dressed pretty much the entire female population of Deadwood in plaid frocks of one pattern or another. It could be an emblem for the entire production: not cheap 'n' cheerful, but a bit exposed in its new berth at the Shaftesbury Theatre after a national tour. This isn't metropolitan snobbery or condescension; it's just that, especially with musicals, what looks perfectly fine even on a "number one" tour can seem a bit thin when set in the West End cheek by jowl with a raft of major spectacles and asking around double its previous ticket prices.
Craig Revel Horwood's choreography is mostly straightforward hoofing and whirling, apart from a slightly Fosse-lised intro to the first rendition of "It's Harry I'm Planning To Marry" and a general tendency to have those playing showgirls grab their own bottoms, often while peeking from between their own legs. Director Ed Curtis steers conventionally clear of any lesbo-erotic subtext when Calamity and Katie Brown set up home together, extolling the virtues of "A Woman's Touch". Michael Cormick is unexceptionally sonorous as Wild Bill Hickok, but Garry Kilby as Lt Danny Gilmartin lacks any of the dash or personality that would have two women fighting over him. As Katie, the actress's maid mistakenly engaged by "Calam" to play the Golden Garter saloon, Kellie Ryan makes a promising West End début.
But the show stands or falls on its title portrayal, and with Toyah Willcox, it doesn't fall outright, but it does stagger. This is through no fault of Willcox's. She puts 110% into Calam's tomboy hyperactivity: she gambols, scrambles and careers around the stage, and literally hangs from the saloon rafters at one point during "The Deadwood Stage". But she just doesn't have the right voice for Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster's songs. The top end of her register tends a little towards hooting, the bottom end a lot towards blaring. Sadly, she is a country mile away from the sweet yearning required for the show's big romantic number, "Secret Love". It's not a matter of her being the former flame-haired punkette who sang "It's A Mystery", or of her not being Doris Day in the original movie, simply that she is musically miscast. She does everything she can to inject the fizz that the production needs, but ultimately it's too great a burden and one that doesn't fit her anyway.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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