Calamity Jane: All’s Riot on the Western Front

While the Desert Star Playhouse usually presents melodramatic musical parodies where the broad, vaudeville-esque jokes are used to whack you in the face, the current production, “Calamity Jane: All’s Riot on the Western Front” focuses less on comedy and more on music and light-hearted fun.

One could criticize the show for simply not being very funny, but that would be unfair. When it tries to be funny, it is; it just doesn’t always try, choosing instead to tell an entertaining, amusing little story about the Old West.

The new Pony Express rider is Calamity Jane (Julie Ann Christensen), a rough-and-tumble frontier gal who is also a sharpshooter and who doesn’t put up with any garbage from anyone. (She also has a beautiful singing voice, by the way, which perhaps contradicts her tomboy-ish nature, but I guess that’s how musicals are, eh?) She comes in to the town of Deadwood and runs into her old flame, Wild Bill Hickock (Scott Holman), who unfortunately at this point is somewhat enamored with western fiction writer Ambrosia Hepsibah (Lynda Robyns).

Meanwhile, the local bad guy, Diamond Jack Butler (Dallas Forester) is scheming with the haggish Cimmaron Rose (Danielle Omer) and the dim-witted Grizzly Bear Gibbons (Christopher Joseph Rogers) to steal the gold mine belonging to the goofy Irish guy Paddy O’Leary (Paul Luscher).

Naturally, Jane and Bill wind up together, and they foil the plans of the bad guys, with help from the sissy-turned-tough-guy bartender Elmo (Christian M. Dives, and yes, there’s a “Tickle Me Elmo” joke). And they all live happily ever after.

While this is more of a fun Old West story than a comedy, there certainly are some very funny moments. At one point Wild Bill dons braids and a hat to do a Willie Nelson impression, and everytime Grizzly Bear Gibbons comes onstage, pianist David Len Allen plays “Bare Necessities” from Disney’s “The Jungle Book” — one of several subtle jokes provided by the pianist as he sort of narrates the show with his mood music and sound effects. (When they go down into the dangerous mine, he plays “Clementine” in a minor key — very funny, if you catch it.)

The chase scene in the mine, with two box cars supposedly chasing each other (it’s actually just one, and the characters keep quickly trading places) is also frenetic and wacky.

Following the show is the “Take Me out to the Ball Game Olio,” full of singing, dancing and shtick about sports. Here we find some of the smartest satire the Desert Star has done, in their song about returned missionaries at BYU, and the co-eds who just want to get married. It’s an old, tired subject, but the cast manages to infuse some new life into it with some creative lyrics.

Another highlight of the Olio: The five men do a cross-dressing impression of the Utah Jazz dancers. Men in drag are not automatically funny, but in this case it works.

Christian Dives, who is one of the better performers in his “Calamity Jane” role as Elmo, is unfortunately one-half of an atrocious performance of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” His partner in this travesty is Christopher Rogers, who also was good as Grizzly Bear Gibbons, but who doesn’t even come close to measuring up to Bud Costello. Certain things are classics, gems, brilliant diamonds shining brightly in the annals of comedy, and they should not be performed by anyone other than their originators. In this case, it makes two otherwise fine actors look very, very bad, because they’re not nearly as good as their material.

I think the "Who's on First?" thing actually offended me. Just the IDEA that they thought they could do as good a job as Abbott & Costello really sticks in my craw.

We saw the show opening night, and the funniest moment of the whole evening was near the end, when a rising backdrop almost pulled Jane's dress up with it. Trust me, that was very funny.

Something else that is funny is replacing "Calamity Jane" with "Chlamydia Jane," chlamydia of course being a venereal disease. Everytime they said "Calamity Jane" during the show, which was about every seven seconds, I was thinking of the other word, and I giggled the whole time. Try it; it's fun!