Musicals Robert Tanitch
Most successful Broadway musicals end up on the big screen, but it's rare for a Hollywood musical to end up on the stage. Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster, who wrote the music and lyrics for Calamity Jane — the 1953 movie, starring Doris Day and Howard Keel — followed a Western trail, which had already been blazed by Irving Berlin and the four-barrelled Ethel Merman in Annie Get Your Gun on Broadway nine years earlier. The whip crack-away rivalry between Calamity and Wild Bill Hickok blatantly echoed the rivalry of Annie Oakley and Frank Butler. "I Call Do Without You" was a watered-down version of "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better."
The real Calamity Jane (1852-1903) frontierswoman, sharpshooter. professional gambler. gold prospector, cavalry scout and stagecoach driver, was a legend in her own lifetime. She lived in Deadwood, Dakota. and was considered the most reckless and daring rider in the West. She wore men's clothing. she drank hard and she swore like a man. After Bill Hickok was murdered, she joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and her skills at riding and shooting on a bareback horse reached a much wider public than just cowboys and injuns.
The musical has a good selection of songs and will do very nicely for anybody looking for a bit of light and undemanding entertainment for the family on a summer's evening. Ed Curtis's lively production, designed for touring, is efficiently drilled and Craig Revel Horwood's choreography has its amusing moments when the boys are sitting round a table singing the praises of a woman called Adelaide. One of the best jokes is Simon I I iglettt's recreation of a whole series of those over-the-top technicoloured skies, which you can find only in Hollywood Westerns. Spunky, pony-tailed Toyah Willcox, a real trouper, does what troupers are meant to do and gets out there and knocks them in the aisles. Forty-five years old going on 30, her gymnastic prowess, her seemingly unlimited physical energy and her tomboy charm carry the show. Michael Cormick is in fine voice as Wild Bill.
Clifford Odets (1906-1963), spokesman for the 1930s, revolutionised American drama. Golden Boy, his most successful and least political work, set firmly in the American Depression, told the story of a violinist who turned boxer and sold out for fame and fortune. (Odets, a member of the politically active Theatre Group, also sold out — in his
case to Hollywood). The play was made into a film in 1939 with the 21-year-old William Holden making his screen debut. In 1964, the play was turned into a Broadway musical for Sammy Davis Jr, with a new book by William Gibson, who updated the action and set it within a context of racial prejudice. race riots and Black Power. The script preached a hamfisted. chip-on-shoulder, militant sermon. The banal dialogue was never so sentimental as when it was being hard-boiled. Charles Strouse's music was unmemorable and Sammy Davis was too old to be playing the young boxer. The production, though success ful in New York. failed when it came to London three years later.
The latest rewrite by Rick Jacobs gets rid of the American Depression and the politicised racism. Though the second half is better than the first, the final upbeat number is totally out of key with the script's downbeat ending. Jason Pennycooke is a great dancer but Jacobs's production, infuriatingly, doesn't really give him a chance to perform his showstopping dancing skills. Sally Ann Triplett, as the girl he falls in love with, doesn't seem to know what she is doing and there is certainly nothing going on between her and Pennycooke to make sense of their relationship. The strongest performance is by Alana Maria as the boxer's no-nonsense sister.
Antonio Gades's Fuenteovejuna, based on Lope de Vega's seventeenth century drama and performed briefly by the Spanish National Dance Company at Sadler's Wells, was not as electrifying as his famous Flamenco version of Carmen. In 1476, the citizens of Fuenteovejuna, a village in Andalusia, rose up against their feudal commander and killed him. The villagers, men, women and children, some as young as 10, under interrogation and torture, famously refused to say who had actually been responsible for his murder and with one voice replied that Fuenteovejuna had killed him. The uprising was triggered when the commander imprisoned a groom on his wedding day and raped his bride.
The familiar Flamenco stamping and handclapping served the confrontations of the antagonists well, but the traditional folk dances, showing the peasants at work and play, were too often merely over-extended padding. It was fine for those who had come just for the folk dancing but not so good for those who had come for the drama. The curtain call was a highly effective reprise of melodramatic tableaux from key moments in the action. The taped music, however, badly recorded and horribly amplified, was a disgrace.
Calamity Jane is at Shaftesbury Theatre. Box Office: 0970 906 3798. Golden Boy is at Greenwich Theatre. Box Office: 020 8858 7755.