Make a date with the Calendar Girls – Review

UNLESS you’ve been living in a bunker for the last 20 years, you’ll be familiar with the famous story this new musical is based upon.

Calendar Girls The Musical, Gary Barlow, Birmingham Hippodrome

But, for the benefit of those emerging from bunkers – this is the touching true tale of a group of ladies from a Yorkshire village who appeared naked for a WI calendar to raise funds for a settee for their local hospital following the death of one of their husbands.

It’s latest incarnation (it’s been a hugely successful play and film) had much to live up to. There was a lot riding on Gary Barlow’s musical score which, in his collaboration with the play’s original writer Tim Firth, had the potential to take the show to a new level.

And, I’m delighted to say, that it did.

It’s a delicate balance of emotions – there is the potential for tears of both laughter and sadness pretty much throughout the show (either way, that’s lots of tears!) –  and the subjects of love, loss, loneliness and friendship are captured most beautifully through Barlow’s numbers. It would have been easy to underline the script with a string of sad ballads – and there are its fair share of those – . but in fact, one walks away at the end of the evening feeling uplifted and ready to take on the world – whatever it might throw at us.

Calendar Girls The Musical, Birmingham Hippodrome, Gary Barlow, Tim Firth
The Calendar Girls cast with Gary Barlow and Tim Firth

For this is a show about an ordinary group of people with ordinary lives achieving quite extraordinary things. – Did you know the ladies upon which this story is inspired raised almost £5 million for blood cancer charity Bloodwise through their combined efforts? Quite right too then that their legacy should continue to live on through the arts.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a show about grief, it’s a show about relationships and is more heartwarming than heartbreaking. The emotion is, at times, raw and you’ll have your share of wobbly lip moments (unless you’re made of stone) but, on the whole, it’s a celebration of endearment and emotional endurance (theirs and ours!) And as a show I believe it will also endure.

On its first UK tour following a stint in London’s West End, Calendar The Musical is in the hands of a most capable cast, many of whom are familiar faces from our TV screens.

Lesley Joseph of Birds of a Feather fame, Hollyoaks star Sarah Jane Buckley; Casualty actress Sue Devaney; Broadchurch star Julia Hills; Judy Holt of Cold Feet; Rebecca Storm from Les Miserables and ‘Loose Woman’ Lisa Maxwell make for a formidable acting line-up that handles everything thrown at them. And the heavy smattering of hysterical one-liners were fairly evenly distributed! The laugh-out-loud moments were among some of the funniest I’ve encountered in the theatre.

In a departure from the original script, Firth further explores the roles of the teenage characters and it’s a stroke of genius, adding more comedy gold to proceedings.

Calendar Girls The Musical, Birmingham Hippodrome

Act One at first seems to move quite slowly but, in fact, builds nicely towards a much-anticipated second act when the calendar photoshoot scenes for which the show is most famous, bring down the house.

There’s wonderful chemistry between these ladies who are clearly having an absolute ball getting their kit off night after night! And so were we.

Calendar Girls the Musical is raw, charming and uplifting and should not be missed. There’s plenty of time to still catch it locally as it runs at The Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday, June 8th.

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