Top musical radiates simple happiness

Calamity Jane at The Congress Theatre in Eastbourne from February 24-28. SUS-150213-141609001
Calamity Jane at The Congress Theatre in Eastbourne from February 24-28. SUS-150213-141609001

Calamity Jane just breezed in – and the Congress Theatre echoes, laughs and dances this week with Jodie Prenger and her infectiously happy townsfolk, writes Kevin Anderson.

In those lists of 100 Great Musicals, Calamity Jane is somewhere in the middle.

It is no Oklahoma, with no message and no broad sweep, either in the music or the story.

The plot jolts along rather like the Deadwood Stage itself, but with an endearing homely warmth, a frequent chuckle, and a scoreful of great songs.

Nikolai Foster enhances his reputation for intelligent, imaginative direction: pretty conventional with the four-square, four-in-a-bar ensemble numbers, but teasing out the humour and quick-fire interaction between characters.

A Woman’s Touch is a tongue-in-cheek delight, and the stagecoach conjured from stage furniture is inspired.

The show’s intimacy only just works in the larger Congress space, but the set itself has a highly authentic backwoods feel, and everything shows flawless attention to detail, from breathtaking hoedown choreography to perfect Dakota accents.

And what a fabulous multi-talented ensemble! Celebrating once again the rise and rise of the “muso”, this whole company is professional to the tips of its toes and the ends of its fiddle bows.

Jane, on a mission to “out-male” the men, finds her heart melted by Tom Lister’s suave, assured Bill Hickox.

Jodie Prenger – best known as the Lloyd Webber Nancy – plays Jane from the start with such boldness and brashness that the softer side only just emerges in the second half. But her voice has a confident power, and the torch song Secret Love fills the theatre.

Heresy to say it, but Miss Prenger is all but outshone by Phoebe Street’s sparkling portrayal of Katie Brown, the young singer who arrives in Deadwood almost by accident and takes the town by storm.

Phoebe does exactly that, with delightful, witty acting and a soaring voice. It’s the best part in the show and she revels in it.

Prominent among an accomplished cast are Alex Hammond’s dashing Lieutenant Danny, and Rob Delaney, playing showman Francis with a lovely dash of camp.

By the end, hearts are won and the whole theatre radiates simple happiness. And why not?

The world can do with cheering up, and this energetic and effortlessly talented show does just that.

Calamity Jane continues at The Congress Theatre until Saturday, evenings 7.30pm with Thursday and Saturday 2.30pm matinees - call 01323 412000.