Calamity Jane, Shaftesbury Theatre, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Hornswaggle me, but you'd have to be a durn cussed coyote, if your heart didn't warm just a little to Calamity Jane. Well, to the original movie version at any rate. This stage adaptation of it is considerably more hit-and-miss. Clambering into Doris Day's dishevelled buckskins is Toyah Willcox. Fresh from her adventures in the jungle with "Wild" Wayne Sleep on I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!, she's now in Deadwood, having adventures with Wild Bill Hickok in a show that, on a couple of occasions, made me muse about a possible subtitle "I'm a Mere Critic, Get Me Out of Here".

Calamity is such a camp creation, she's more like George in Enid Blyton's Famous Five novels than Moll Cutpurse. She can outride and outshoot any woman in the world, and her dress sense makes some of the cowboys look a touch effeminate. But her only vice is sarsaparilla and, in her world, "A Woman's Touch" means the ability to turn a run-down shack into a spick-and-span Home Beautiful ("A woman's touch/ A woman's touch/ The magic of Aladdin/ Couldn't do as much") rather than anything desirable in a non-housekeeping sense.

You can't accuse ponytail-tossing Toyah of giving less than her heart and soul to the part. She throws herself into the sharpshooting tomboy athleticism, and she's fine at projecting the heroine's emotional innocence and fired-up enthusiasm. But Calamity needs to be able to dominate vocally, too, and Willcox does not have the necessary command. She's heavily miked, and this emphasises that distracting sibilance in her delivery. Fain and Webster's score is crammed with droll comedy, cleverly pitched to the homespun level of the characters. Willcox and Michael Cormick, who turns in a virile and sturdily sung Hickok, are engaging as they spar through the adversarial horseplay of "I Can Do Without You", but lyrics like "You can go to Philadelphia/ Take the hack to Hackensack/ Hey, I'll never ring a bell for ya/ Or yell for ya/ To come back" cry out for Day's crispness of attack. Willcox sounds soggy by comparison.

The focus of the show is on Deadwood's Golden Garter theatre, and on Calamity's promise that she will come back from Chicago with the internationally renowned Adelaide Adams to save it from closure. But Ed Curtis's production presents the Golden Garter as a saloon, with the performers strutting their stuff on top of the bar. You may feel, if you have forked out the full West End prices for this show, that that is not good enough. Kellie Ryan is very appealing as Katie Brown, the stage-struck maid of Ms Adams whom Calamity mistakes for the real thing. Her routines, though - along with the dances we see in Chicago - have been (to use a term currently in vogue) sexed up. With the performers rearing their rumps up at us and miaowing like cats on heat, we seem to have entered a timewarp and found ourselves in the Hotbox nightclub in Guys and Dolls. Terrific in its place, that kind of thing jeopardises the unworldly charm of Calamity Jane.

There are sequences where the show springs fully to life, as when our heroine stirs the town to a shuffling dance with her report on "The Windy City". But the stage version makes less, rather than more, of the movie's merits. The chorus about Calamity's tall tales: "Oh, my achin' tooth/ She's not exactly lying/ But she's careless with the truth" could be aboutthe adaptation: not exactly distorting, but careless with inherited assets.

To 20 September (020-7379 5399)