Disney delights

Beauty and the Beast (Phoenix Ensemble)

Pavilion Theatre

May 3 – 25

Despite them being problematic from the perspective of modern political correctness, there is a huge affection from Disney musicals. This is evident not only in Phoenix Ensemble’s production of “Beauty and the Beast” enjoying a sold-out season, but from the start of show applause from the all-age audience members packed into the Pavilion Theatre’s new seating bank. The stage is bursting sometimes too with the show’s big ensemble numbers occupying all of the its space, even spilling into the stalls. But it all begins, after a quick opening flashback, with just the one… the Beauty of the title, Belle (Mannao Madar) showcasing share in song of her wish to live in a world full of adventure, like in her books.

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When her inventor-father, Maurice (Tony Paull) goes missing, Belle braves the woods in order to save him. When she discovers that her father is being held prisoner, she runs to his aid and confronts the captor Beast (Michael Mills), eventually courageously agreeing to trade places and become his prisoner instead. Those familiar with the Walt Disney Pictures’ Academy Award-winning 1991 animated musical film of the same name, from which it was adapted, know the story behind how the Beast came to be; he was once a spoiled prince, but has been placed under a spell. The occupants of his castle are also cursed and so now must suffer life as animated objects. So, the candlestick, Lumiere (a standout Jason Ianna) and stuffy mantle clock Cogswoth (David Morris) unite with others to bring the sweet but strongminded Belle and belligerent Beast together to break everyone’s curse.

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With music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice (Book by Linda Woolverton), the show features many gorgeous musical numbers, despite some occasional varying vocal levels. Madar is always poised as the vibrant and spirited Belle with a spectacularly strong voice that meets every challenge. As the Beast, Mills showcases some soaring vocals also, especially in his ‘If I Can’t Love Her’ lament about being set to stay a monster forever if he cannot open his heart. And as the Beast becomes more humanised early in Act Two, he adds some nice touches of humour.

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Particularly the male members of the ensemble work together to produce some stirring harmonies, evident in vibrant production numbers like ‘Be Our Guest’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘Gaston’, the latter led by Elliot Gough as Le Fou. The song about the conceited cardboard character who vies for Belle for all the wrong reasons is an early highlight in its introduction to Josh Nixon’s appropriately over-the-top performance, all swaggersome stance and malpropismed dialogue, by character dimwittedness more than design.

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As the suave and debonair castle maître d’, Ianna not only maintains accent throughout, even in lead of ‘Be Our Guest’ as requisite almost-intermission after a long Act One big ensemble cabaret number, but his interaction with flirty former maid, now French feather duster Babette (Jaclyn Johnson) is an added treat. And his measured approach strikes a nice balance to the tightly-wound Cogsworth (#punintended) whose fusspot energy is almost too pantomime.

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With puns aplenty and occasional dialogue directly to the audience, there is a real pantomime feel to this show and the playful antics of the animated knickknack and whatnot household objects just wanting to be ‘Human Again’ are a real delight to younger audience members. Scenic design works well to capture the story’s otherworldly elements with seamless scene and prop changes. And though there is limited stage space, the dance numbers are not diminished. Indeed, Amy-Rose Swindells’ choreography sees realisation of some wonderful acrobatic fight scenes. Costumes are all abundantly detailed, with performers coping well with the cumbersome get-ups of the household objects, especially young Chip (Sam Johnson) who can only rely on facial expressions, all of which are fabulously responsive, to determine his scene involvement.

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“Beauty and the Beast” is a big and bold experience, full of colour, energy and movement, which makes it easy for its audience members to be captured by the magic of imagination and theatre in unite. When it took to Broadway in 1994, it was a spectacle the likes of which hadn’t ever before been seen on stage and in Phoenix Ensemble’s hands it is easy to appreciate how, since then, it has played more performances than the four longest-running Broadway shows combined. With bold, fantastic characters, beautiful music and just the right touch of charming humour, it remains beloved for a reason as delightful entertainment for audience members of all ages.

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Goodes store goodness

Ladies in Black (Ipswich Musical Theatre Company)

The Old Ipswich Courthouse

April 26 – May 5

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The award-winning Australian musical “Ladies in Black” by Carolyn Burns and Tim Finn may be relatively new, but it comes with an acclaimed reputation. Accordingly perhaps Ipswich Musical Theatre Company’s production of the work is enjoying a sold out season even before its opening night. And experience of the show confirms that this is for good reason.

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The heartfelt coming-of-age story is of a clever, bookish young woman, Lisa (Bailee Scott) working as a Christmas casual at the imagined Sydney department store Goodes in the 1950s while she waits for her Leaving Certificate results, and the lives of the other women workers she meets there. And through its pleasant presentation, it is easy to get caught up in its world, familiar though now foreign, as seen by the audience reaction to Lisa’s father’s response to her desire to go to university (for this is a time when girls don’t dream of education beyond maybe Teaching College or Secretarial School).

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Charming as the story is, however, what makes or breaks this show is its music. Matthew Semple’s Musical Direction is solid and the band does an excellent job in realising the challenging score, particularly given the venue necessity to have them doing so from a different room. And the songs are as joyous as even. Catchy melodies mean that tunes like ‘I Got it at Goodes” and the catchy, titular ‘Ladies in Black’ linger long after the show has finished.

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Tim Finn’s songs cover all range of musical styles, from the sway of melodic ballads like ‘Summer Afternoon’ to the energy of Broadway-esque ensemble numbers like ‘Pandemonium’, which is wonderfully choreographed to capture the madness of the January sales experience. They are all seamless in integration into the dramatic action and the comedy of their lyrics is very clever, with lines like “I just kissed a sweet Hungarian … he’s not like all those Aussie barbarians” (‘I Just Kissed a Continental’) and “They need a break from 9 to 5 and golf’s such a gripping game” (from the ockerish ‘He’s a Bastard’, which is always a hoot of a highlight).

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The cast includes some fine musical theatre performers, all well cast in their respective roles but also easily able to harmonise well together. Bailee Scott is perfect as the wide-eyed Lisa, and conveys an endearing comfort within the role from the very first share of her musical anthem using the words of William Blake’s ‘The Tyger’. Though husbands and beaus appear, this is the story of the store’s ladies and in their respective roles, these actors all more than rise to the occasion.

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As the looking for love in all the wrong places but eager to settle down Fay, Harriet Jackson showcases a compelling voice, particularly in her Act Two duo with Phillip Fitzjohn as her ‘continental’ boyfriend Rudi. Lauren Roche, too, gives a memorable performance as the childless Patty, with revealing sadness behind her smile as husband Frank goes about his weekend pub visits and golf game routines.

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Danika Saal gives the ‘crazy continental’ European Magda of Model Gowns an endearing nature, rather than slipping into a ethnic stereotype as could so easily occur, which makes it easy for the audience to appreciate the appeal of her worldly lifestyle to the eager-to-experience-life Lisa. And Chris Kellett transitions in an out of his roles as Lisa’s traditional ‘when I say no, I mean no’ father and Magda’s adoring husband Stefan, with ease. Indeed, together Saal and Kellett present a genuinely delightful duo of the #couplegoals sort. And Fitzjohn is the best Rudi I have seen yet.

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With many, many musical numbers the task of staging this production is certainly an ambitious one and under Tammy Sarah Linde’s direction, it is an ambition well-realised, with good reinterpretation of the just as many scenes to account for space limitations. In fact, the work is only improved in some instances, for example in edit down of the post-interval Anna Karenina inspired dream sequence. The boutique production suits the subject matter and offers many highlights, including a stunning array of authentic 1950s frocks and alike. Even the few lighting false starts and microphone cue misses don’t detract too much from the overall impression. However, it is a shame that some of the action is difficult to see due to a combination of its presence on the stage floor and the lack of a raked stage in the heritage venue.

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This is a highly-entertaining show in all regards, experience of which flies by, even for those, like me, who have seen the show more than once before. While “Ladies in Black” is not particularly thematically innovative, in the Ipswich Musical Theatre Company’s clearly capable hands, it is still full of feeling, musically well-realised and wittily presented, making it worth even a trip from Brisbane to experience its goodness.

Photos c/o – Kenn Santos

Virtually Victor victorious

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Victor Victoria (Beenleigh Theatre Company)

Crete Street Theatre

April 26 – May 11

After overture, “Victor Victoria” beings with a welcome of the “Cabaret” kind by resident performer Carrol ‘Toddy’ Todd (David Austin) at Chez Lui. It’s not Berlin, but rather 1930s Paris, where, we are told, there is no dream you can’t find. Toddy is the club’s flamboyant resident performer, clearly generous and with a heart of gold as he rescues down-on-her-luck, British soprano Victoria Grant (Jane Rapley). We are not in club long, however, as one of the production’s many efficient scene changes takes us to Toddy’s tiny apartment, where he has offered the penniless Victoria shelter from the wet wintry night. As a friendship is formed over tea, he comes upon a brilliant realisation: with a few superficial alterations Victoria would make a damn attractive man.

So the incredible decision is made to dress Victoria as a man and pass her off as the world’s greatest female impersonator from Poland to delight the whole of Gay Paree given her astonishing vocal range. As soon as the songstress find success in her new role, she falls for tough Chicago nightclub owner and implied gangster King Marchan (Michael McNish). He, in turn, is terrified to find himself falling for a man, so refuses to believe that Victor is as ‘he’ seems. Meanwhile his dizzy girlfriend Norma (Isabel Kraemer) is consumed by jealousy.

The musical comedy offers much of both aspects. Kraemer especially, as the shrill showgirl Norma out for revenge, gives audiences many laughs even during the lyrically lacklustre ‘Paris Makes Me Horny’. And when, by an unwelcome coincidence, King and Norma, and bodyguard Squash (Ryan Thomas) find themselves in the adjoining hotel suite to the newly successful Toddy and Victor, the ensuring “Noises Off” style cat and mouse physical comedy farce is a riot of missed opportunities, slammed doors and hidden-in-plain sight attempts to remain unnoticed.

Rapley is excellent in the complicated challenge of playing a woman playing a man playing a woman Although barely bedraggled in her initial struggle at the outset of the story, she is still delightfully endearing and vocally very impressive. Indeed, as Victoria, she is a victor, from her first song confide to Toddy ‘If I Were a Man’. Austin is charming as the genuine optimistic Toddy and the two have a great on-stage chemistry and rapport, best illustrated in their ‘You and Me’ song and dance number.

Although things are a little slow to start, Act One features the grand number, ‘Le Jazz Hot!’, which doesn’t really say much but introduces the immediate sensation of Victor to Paris café society. Despite some reoccurring out-of-step ensemble members detracting from its art deco-ish finesse, the big band centrepiece of the score makes for an opulent highlight. It’s an aesthetic that continues through to Act Two’s opener, when in Marie-Antoinette drag, Victor continues to take Paris audiences by storm in the patter song ‘Louis Says’, particularly noteworthy for its lavish costumes. Costumes are noticeably thematically considered throughout, such as when Victor meets and greets amongst a crowd of hued-pink apparel, however, musically, orchestration suffers from noticeably off-point brass sounds, from the outset of its overture.

While it is great to see an under-produced show such as “Victor Victoria” being embraced with such enthusiasm, it is troublesome nature is certainly apparent with its humour relying on the comedy of finding out someone is gay. Similarly, the way in which Victoria’s emancipation is viewed through modern audience lenses is not assured. Perhaps this is what makes it a guilty pleasure of a musical and while it may be an ambitious choice for a community theatre group, it is an ambition virtually realised in many regards, making it one of my favourite Beenleigh Theatre Group productions thus-far.

Frankenstein funnery

Young Frankenstein (Phoenix Ensemble)

Pavilion Theatre

February 1 – 23

“I’ve never seen it, but it is Mel Brooks so should be funny.” This is how I attempted to entice a +1 along to Phoenix Ensemble’s production of “Young Frankenstein”, the stage version of Brooks’ 1974 horror-movie spoof. It is quite an apt summary actually; the musical is very Brooks and very funny in its witty parody of the musical genre and vaudevillian traditions.

The story of “Young Frankenstein” (officially known as “The New Mel Brooks Musical: Young Frankenstein”) closely parallels that of its source text. Despite attempts to distance himself from his heritage, American professor of neurology Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced at his insistence as Fronkensteen) is lured back to Transylvania to settle his grandfather’s Victor’s estate. Once he arrives, he is tempted to stay by faithful hunchback, and grandson of Victor’s henchman, Igor (David McLaughlin) and yodelling-lab assistant Inga (Vivien Wood). Soon Frederick is lured to join the family business and repeat his grandfather’s experiment of implanting a new brain in the body of a giant corpse, thus enlivening The Monster (Brendan Dieckmann).

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Along the way, there are laughs aplenty and the spectacle of ensemble song and dance number entertainment, such as the multi-styled ‘Transylvania Mania, a doozie new dance phenomenon invented on the spur of the moment to distract angry villagers from the sounds of the awakened monster. But the early highlight is when the duo of Frederick and Igor unite ‘like Ginger and Freddie… or meatballs and spaghetti’ in ‘Together Again (for the first time)’ a delightful send-up of a musical comedy double act number. As in this song, clever lyrics and mischievous rhymes showcase much of the show’s not-so-subtle double-entendred innuendo, which is also often enhanced by the nuanced looks and gestures of McLaughlin who is always on-point as Igor.

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This is a dynamic group of performers who all convey an exuberant comic charm through their apparent understanding that comedy only works if it is played played straight.  As Frederik, Zach Price is pure musical theatre in both his vocals and physical style, particularly seen in his nervous awkwardness around the buxom assistant he has working under him (cue puns a-plenty, all intended), until his untouchable high-maintenance fiancée Elizabeth (Samara Martinelli) reappears on the scene. In complement, McLaughlin is a simply sensational as the impish sidekick Igor. All bug-eyed, bent-over and clown-like, he commands attention, even when as backdrop to the main on-stage action. His non-sequitur comedy and comments contribute much to the show’s hilarity, both in dialogue and song.

Fiona Buchanan’s performance as mysterious violin player Frau Blucher, the stern housekeeper of the estate, is also spot-on. She is not only hilarious in in her straight-faced intensity, but her Cabaret-esque tell of her past with the late Victor in ‘He Vas My Boyfriend’ is another genuine musical highlight. And while The Monster barely speaks a word, in Dieckmann’s hands, the character is a riot, especially as he progresses from pitiful to new-and-improved, in the top-hat-and-tails Fred Astaire-style tap number, Irving Berlin’s ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’. His barely coherent bellows are hilarious even in repetition and the eventual full ensemble chorus number stands strong as Act Two’s highlight.

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Impressive harmonies characterise each of the musical numbers; the entire cast showcases excellent vocal abilities, not just in comic numbers but melodic songs like Act Two’s early ‘Listen to Your Heart’ from Wood as Inga. Musical numbers are also enhanced by Hanna Crowther’s quick choreography which interacts well with a simple scenic design that allows for some great gimmicky moments. Initially music competes with vocals in audience introduction to the villagers of Transylvania Heights in ‘The Happiest Town in Town’, however this soon settles to its place in support. Some microphone cue lapses and static also occasionally interrupt enjoyment, but these can be evenly forgiven given the otherwise overall excellence.

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Unlike Brooks’ hit musical “The Producers”, “Young Frankenstein” is very much an ensemble vehicle and Phoenix Ensemble has assembled an absolutely stellar cast, meaning that experience of the show flies by in a well-paced flood of laughter and song. This is, indeed, a monster of a show and while it may be old-fashioned in its shtick, its energetic fun is so shamelessly silly that you can’t help be caught up in the madcappery of its high-quality low comedy. It is not often that audience members probably leave an amateur show already wanting to see it again, however, the funnery of experience of “Young Frankenstein” is so impressive that this is very much the case, in fitting with it being among the best amateur productions I have ever seen.

Lighting up the sky like a flame

Fame The Musical (Hota and Matt Ward Entertainment)

Home of the Arts, Gold Coast

January 25 – 27

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“Fame”, the 1980 movie, chronicles the lives and hardships of students attending New York’s High School of Performing Arts, to a soundtrack of songs like ‘Fame’, ‘Out Here on My Own’, ‘Hot Lunch Jam’, ‘Never Alone’ and ‘I Sing the Body Electric’. “Fame – The Musical” stories the experiences of hopeful Class of 1984 graduates attending New York’s High School of Performing Arts, to a soundtrack of songs like ‘Fame’ and others from a virtually entirely rewritten score. These differences aside, the stage musical does still loosely shadow the plot of the ‘80s film. Those unfamiliar with the original text won’t probably realise or care, given how well the musical stands alone, and those with reverence for the classic, are at least forewarned in its introduction.

Rather than beginning with auditions, the Musical Theatre Summer School Production opens to newly accepted Juniors being respectively told that their discipline is the hardest profession in the world, whether it be acting, music or dance. The song ‘Hard Work’ bursts forth in reflection of the enormous energy of the youthful cast. Act One then sets about introducing the students and their relationships, illustrating the talent with which the cast brims. Amongst others, confident and angry singer Carmen (Bianca Coxeter) is our Coco, determined to be a success but segued in her ambition by the industry’s dark side. Shy actress Serena (Chelsea Burton) laments her unrequited love for Nick (Liam Head) and Leroy, sorry Tyrone, (Devante Latorre), is a talented dancer whose attitude is a thin-veil to his learning difficulties.

Even if the early plot lacks variation, the production has an appealing aesthetic from its outset. The soundscape is inviting from even before the show’s start and a simple but effective scaffolded set alofts the live band above a lot of the action, in front of an underused projection screen. Tight choreography makes good use of the stage areas, especially in full ensemble numbers which see groups layered across the stage and seamless transitions in contrast to the occasional microphone and lighting cue lapses.

While Kate Wormald’s more modern choreography invigorates the 1980s story, the show’s soundtrack, however, suffers from its transformation. While the new songs go some way to updating the musical, they aren’t particularly memorable. Even its titular Irene Cara track is only hinted at in Act One, although it does take pride of place in the finale. Regardless, however, large-scale numbers are all delivered with enthusiasm and exuberance, allowing showcase of some notable stage presences among the ensemble members.

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There are highlights, too, in the more low-key musical numbers. Burton gives a likeable performance as besotted acting student Serena, vocally holding the audience in the palm of her hands. And Cessalee Stovall is sensational as English and homeroom teacher Miss Sherman, especially in her powerful, but still soulful, rendition of ‘These are My Children’, which is a show highlight. And under Ben Murray’s Musical Direction, the soundtrack serves well in support rather than overwhelm of the performers, as is often the case.

Latorre is a smooth Tyrone, both is his silver-tongued attempts to subvert attention and in his fluidity of movement across dance genres, but particularly in ballet duets. And there is humour too. Nicola Barret makes a meal (#punintended) of the supporting role of the melodramatic dancer Mabel, cresendoing in her gospel-like Act Two epiphany that instead of becoming ‘the world’s fattest dancer’ (‘Mabel’s Prayer), she should instead consider Acting a major, while Jake Binns oozes exuberance as the personality-plus young acting student Joe.

Following a tight Act One, Act Two seems to drag a little by comparison, even though it brings more emotional drive as we delve a little into the lives of the students. Still, some plot threads appear to be left hanging and themes only touched upon, perhaps as expense for the ‘everyone gets a song’ approach. While the vocal talent is excellent, however, the consequential lack of emotional connection is notable due to absence of substantial insight into the students’ personal lives beyond just artist drive and/or motivation for fame.

While its characters and songs may be different from its namesake, “Fame – The Musical”, still has the trademark sentiment that has seen its franchise endure for so many decades. This Matt Ward Entertainment production is embodiment of the notion of theatrical triple threats, with adept acting, accomplished dancing and exceptional singing. Not only this, but it is full of energy and vigour, showing that, as it promises, “Fame” continues to light up the sky like a flame.

Christmakah cabaret celebrations

The Seventh Annual Mama Alto Holiday Special – Butterfly Edition (Mama Alto)

The Butterfly Club

December 17

Like just the short-lived “The Judy Garland Christmas Show” from which it draws its inspiration, “The Seventh Annual Mama Alto Holiday Special” has an appealing, organic feel as guests drop in on gender transcendent diva, jazz singer Mama Alto for a sing-a-long (with musical director William Elm at the piano).

Immediately there is a welcoming feel to the intimate show. Even the poinsettias are glittering in seasonal celebration at the seventh annual now not Christmas, but holiday, special. (But don’t even get her started about the conservative media). Intelligent and witty between-song banter is warmly conversational, meaning that the experience feels like it is over in the shortest time.

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The beloved yuletide tradition starts in characteristic Mama Alto style with Ella Fitzgerald’s divine ‘What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?’, dedicated to its first recording artist, the days earlier passed Nancy Wilson, which showcases the talented cabaret artiste’s exquisite sound in its hushed longing.

Music is inextricably intertwined with Christmas and there is much for connoisseurs to enjoy in the program with Elvis’ ‘Blue Christmas’, Bing Crosby’s ‘I’ll be Home for Christmas’ and Nat King Cole’s iconic ‘The Christmas Song’ all making appearances. It’s not all snow and mistletoe lyrics though; the eclectic but nicely-curated set list includes a Hannakah Dreidel song singalong and a lovely ukulele-accompanied ‘Feliz Navidad’ with self-declared ‘cabaret deviant and really bad drag queen’ Six Inches Uncut. Other highlights include duet with Bianca Bruce in stunning share of the Judy Garland/Barbara Streisand mashup duet ‘Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again’, a much sort after standard since the first holiday special and an inspired operatic mashup of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and ‘Purple Rain’ in duet with Piera Dennerstein. Then there is also Bradley Storer’s soaring share of Conchita Wurst’s Eurovision-winning Bond-esque power ballad ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’, with its message of acceptance and unity.

If you love the holidays, vintage songs and the deliciousness of life’s ironies, this Christmakah cabaret (to also steal the “Orange County” show’s trademark term) is certainly for you. It not only celebrates the ideas of inclusion and community that make the holiday season such a joyous time of year, but it shows the regard in which Mama Alto is clearly held in the industry, given how many fellow performers are willing to share the stage with her for just a few minutes each.

Iconic encore

Calamity Jane – Encore Season (Arts Centre Melbourne in association with One Eyed Man Productions, Neglected Musicals and Hayes Theatre Co)

Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio

December 12 – 23 (and from 1 January 2019 at the Comedy Theatre)

The weekend before I went to the encore season of “Calamity Jane” at The Arts Centre, Melbourne, I watched the 1953 Doris Day/Howard Keel film (because… any excuse). It may not have been the best idea, given the western musical movie’s iconic status, however, ultimately, it doesn’t matter anyway because this “Calamity Jane” is very much its own totally tongue-in-cheek beast.

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The setting is the Deadwood City’s Golden Garter Saloon, authentically created in the intimate Fairfax Studio space, which sees some audience members seated on stage as both as inn customers and an integral part of the show’s unique experience. “It’s immersive; you’ll get used to it” Calamity (Virgina Gay) tells one audience member early on in the show. We do and we love it, for this “Calamity Jane” is an absolutely joyous live performance in every regard.

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The spontaneous performance is certainly random at times, particularly of its with dance inclusions and even Inception-like moments, like when visiting performer Francis Friar (Rob Johnson) arrives at the saloon to perform an audition song “from the musical Calamity Jane”. But it is all part of the infectious ‘just go with it’ philosophy that is so much of the show’s all-encompassing appeal.

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At its core is, of course, is faithfulness to the characters and story assumedly (by the audience demographic), still loved by young and old alike, of the 1961 stage adaptation of the Academy Award winning movie musical. The legendary far-from-lady frontierswoman of the old American west, Calamity Jane (Virgina Gay) travels on the Deadwood stage to Chicago to fetch the star all the Deadwood City townsmen want, Adelaide Adams (Christina O’Neill). Instead she brings back Adelaide’s maid, aspiring performer Katie Brown (Laura Bunting), pretending to be the star. When Katie falls in love with Calvary lieutenant Danny Gilmartin (Matthew Pearce) who is Calamity’s sercret love, all sorts of shenanigans ensue on way to a conventional happy ever after ending for all.

This a very funny show, especially in its overt examination of the interplay of power and gender, and its increasing innuendo regarding interpretation of Calamity’s feeling for Katie, which crescendos in an after-show wedding party in the foyer where the subversive subtext exploited in the story and characters, becomes text. Seemingly so finely-tuned are the cast in work together that they not only comfortably incorporate ad-lib moments, but also make scripted dialogue seem spontaneous.

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Despite Gay’s wonderful, physical, fearless, often clown-like performance, things are not all high energy madcapperty. The score (musical direction by Nigel Ubrihien) is quite simple and the soulful, folk-like ‘Black Hills of Dakota’, for example, provides a beautiful respite from other antics. All cast members are on point, even playing most of the instruments, including trombone, tuba and guitar, however, undoubtedly and deservedly this is Virgina Gay’s show.

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Gay is a charming, awkward, expressive and endearing heroine, with comic nuance down to even her every glance. Indeed, in reprise of her award-winning portrayal as the feisty but transparently vulnerable Calamity, she absolutely owns the stage, but still has a wonderful love-hate bickering interplay with the softer than usual gunslinger Wild Bill Hickok (Anthony Gooley bringing a wonderful stage presence), in classic romantic comedy style.

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When it comes to this “Calamity Jane”, since its initial Hayes Theatre run, the ravers, it seems, really are right. Under Richard Carroll’s inspired direction, the combination of its many outstanding elements make this show a dynamic delight and it is easy to appreciate the whip-cracking speed with which its encore season shows have sold out. Now it just needs to tour to Brisbane so I can both see it again and share its joy in my own raving.