Calamity Jane – Whips, Laughs & Heart
By Liane Morris
What is it about Calamity Jane that excites everyone? I grew up watching Doris Day ‘whip-cracking away’ on film and I just loved it. In February 2018, Riverside Theatres is presenting Calamity Jane starring Virginia Gay of All Saints and Winners and Losers fame. This production was a sell-out when it presented at Hayes Theatre in August 2017 and is already selling out at Riverside faster than Calamity could shoot.
This particular production looks fabulous and one not to miss. Cheeky, gritty and quite simply lots of fun, it’s a pared back version of the famous story that promises lots of laughs and toe-tapping enjoyment. So what is it about Calamity that everyone loves? Is it the songs that Doris Day sang? Is it the fact that she was a real character who bent the gender stereotypes of her day? Is she a feminist icon? A gay icon?
The story of the real Calamity Jane, or Martha Jane Cannary as she was born, was a fairly unsavoury one. She was orphaned at the age of 12 and became responsible for at least 5 of her siblings, having to make a living by any means necessary, including prostitution. She was tall and powerfully built, illiterate and desperately poor. Doris
Day she most definitely wasn’t! She travelled with the US Army and ended up in the lawless town of Deadwood where she earned her reputation as a sharp shooting, hard riding, whiskey swilling, gender bending woman with
a heart of gold and a soft spot for Wild Bill Hickok. She joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and promoted her own autobiography, exaggerating the tales of her life in order to grow her own legend and make more money. She died an alcoholic at the age of 51.
The songs made famous by the Doris Day film include Secret Love which earned gay anthem status in the 60s as a song about being ‘in the closet’. The truth is that we will never know whether or not Calamity Jane was gay or if her masculine cross dressing was simply a way for her to survive in a rough world. Having said that, I’m fairly certain that if I was transported to the Wild West I would not want to be wearing the feminine garb of the day!
The allure of Calamity Jane for me was the fact that she was a strong woman, a survivor in a tough time and the fact that she didn’t follow the rules. She did not adhere to gender stereotypes and she could kick butt! She walked her own path. As a girl and as a woman I have always sought out these stories and revelled in the rebelliousness of characters like Calamity, feeling a sense of self-recognition and pride in their achievements.
And aside from admiring this rough and tough woman, this production, from all accounts is hilarious, joyous and just a little bit camp with absolutely fabulous songs. I can’t wait.
“Calamity Jane will be among the most fun experiences you’ll have in a theatre this year.”
Jason Blake, The Sydney Morning Herald
A freelance writer with a background in arts and media marketing, Liane runs a boutique consultancy from her home in Lake Macquarie. She can write just about anything but has a passion for the arts, health and cooking, happiness theories, travel, feminism, leadership and parenting.
In the past Liane worked as a senior marketer in organisations such as Canberra Glassworks, Riverside Theatres, Sydney Symphony, the ABC and Time Inc. Magazines (Who Weekly, Time, Sports Illustrated and InStyle) but these days she prefers the flexibility and creative freedom in freelance writing work.
An aspiring author of fiction for children and adults, Liane hopes to be published one day soon. She is a proud Novacastrian, loves living on the coast just 1 ½ hours from the big smoke, growing amazing little human beings and writing for pleasure and for her clients.