In early June The Bradford Players performed Calamity Jane, the famous musical based around the titular character. Calam, as she likes to be known, is tom boy-like cowgirl who is known for her gun-toting, bravery and tall tales. When the actress hired to perform at her city’s famous Golden Garter venue turns out to be a man, Calamity Jane volunteers to bring famous music-hall star Adelaid Adams back to Deadwood to perform to appease the baying crowd.
Featuring famous songs like Windy City, Deadwood Stage and Black Hills of Dakota, the Bradford Players put on their take of the musical over four days and five shows, and brought a sing-a-long energetic spectacle to the Bradford Playhouse.
With the character of Calamity Jane appearing in the majority of scenes and songs the musical will always live and die on the lead actress, and in casting Poppy Jo Lumley as the title character the group pulled a blinder. Larger than life and, to use a cliché, giving 110% on stage, Lumley was a magnetic presence, from her embracing of the sulking, embellishing side of Calam’s personality to a set of facial expressions that perfectly carried off the reactions needed to everything going on around her. Throw in a strong singing voice, a child-like energy and a rhythm that matched actions to the music and Lumley was a joy to watch in the lead role, and the way she constantly lit up the stage made it clear why she was chosen as the lead.
Her actions and delivery during act one song Careless With The Truth was a particular highlight but she was also strong on songs such as ‘Windy City’ and act two’s A Woman’s Touch. In a nutshell the physicality Lumley brought to the role, whether it was in her poses, interactions or facial expressions, won me over, and her ability to move from the brashness to the sulky side of her nature, and even later on expressing her vulnerability was done marvellously and she always appeared at ease on stage, and her embracing of the comedic side of the script, including cheeky impressions of the other cast members, and the accent needed, was done perfectly.
Supporting her on stage was a strong cast. Richard Armstrong as Wild Bill Hickock played well against Lumley, holding his own in songs but being a match for the more physical reactions of the role. His occasional interactions with others on stage, including the guitarist, who like the rest of the musicians were cleverly incorporated into the set, was fun. Paul Matthews as Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin and Jo Haynes as Katie Brown made for another strong pairing, Hayes in particular embracing the different aspects of the role from nervous first-time actress coming to Deadwood to a confident duet on the song ‘A Woman’s Touch’.
Credit should also be given to several members of the extended cast. Ric Neild as Rattlesnake, who looked like a cross between Zach Galifianakis and Ronnie Barker in a character role, got many laughs thanks to his hilarious, yet great, accent and his embracing of some great physical comedy. Speaking of on-stage antics, Chris Sheard as Francis Fryer was a hoot, playing the 30s-like music hall act initially thought to be a woman, his exaggerated actions both in and out of drag and delivery of his lines adding some great comedy to any scene he was in. Debbie Cross as Susan was another highlight, her relentless smile and energy a joy to watch.
Outside of the main cast the ensemble were on top form, with the choreography never less than interesting and tightly planned and blocked out, and their rhythm was spot-on, thanks to the hard work of Amy Roche as the head choreographer, with an impressive 126 hours of practice quoted in the programme. At one point the audience – whooping and hollering as they watched – got treated to a rather fun group dance complete with twirling dresses and an impressive splits ending.
There were many laughs from the audience during the show as well as moments of clapping along to the more energetic numbers, and rightly so, as the cast looked like they were having a ball on stage, with strong delivery of the lines and an embracing of the entire premise. Throw in some solid sets and props, a keen eye for costume, and a strong set of musicians and lighting work, with only the odd microphone problem here and there the only thing noticeable on the opening night, and the audience were treated to a great show, helped along by a musical whose script was witty, songs memorable and plotting uplifting enough to bring a smile to people’s faces in these turbulent times. The Bradford Players’ take on ‘Calamity Jane’ was a joy to watch.
The Bradford Players return with their Big Top Beauty and the Beast pantomime in November. If you want to take part auditions take place on the 18th June at 2pm at St. Andrews Methodist Church in Bradford.