Actress Virginia Gay does not aspire to be cast as a shrinking violet or a dainty housewife. Nor does she have any interest in telling “old stories” that don’t have a purpose in modern society.
Yet the 36-year-old is about to star as the lead in the stage musical Calamity Jane when it plays in Wollongong next week.
“I’ve loved Calamity Jane since I was a tiny child, which I think is how a lot of people remember the film – like it was really important to them growing up,” she said.
The stage musical morphed from the 1953 Doris Day movie (and an earlier stage play), and is full of traditional ideas around gender and a woman’s role. But Gay is excited to share the story through 2018 eyes.
We had a man who wore leather chaps and I can tell you that was maybe the highlight of my performing career.Virgina Gay
No lyrics have been changed (you will still sing along to A Woman’s Touch and Just Blew in From the Windy City) but Gay explained they have “excavated the subtext” slightly.
“It’s really important that we look at different stories from a different time, and say ‘what is the value of this now and how have we changed and how can we put a slant on this that will make it relevant now?’,” she said.
“It’s the power of theatre or the arts general.”
Like other prominent roles preceding the fierce Jane (you may have seen Gay as Francis in Winners and Losers or as Gabrielle in All Saints), she is excited to transform into a character full of passion and ready to fight for justice and truth.
“I would love to think that’s me in every day life,” she said.
“I’m talking about it in a very serious way but it is the most ridiculous, rollicking couple of hours of theatre that I have ever seen … and that’s a really smart way to get a point across.
“That you make something very entertaining and very funny but you also offer some salient ways to live your life or to reconsider your life – I hope it is inspiring.”
In January the show won best independent musical and best female performer in a musical at the Sydney Theatre Awards.
Part of the production’s appeal lies in its staging where audience members can find a seat in the Golden Garter saloon and be immersed by the whoring, gambling wild west.
“It’s really beautiful watching an audience go ‘no,no, I’m not not here for participation’ and then by the end of the show they are on their feet, they are hugging us,” Gay said, adding some people make the effort to get dressed for the occasion.
“Just once we had a man who wore leather chaps and I can tell you that was maybe the highlight of my performing career.”
Calamity Jane, Illawarra Performing Arts Centre, March 7 to 11. www.merrigong.com.au
- Live captioning for the hearing impaired and post show Q&A available during the season.