Calendar Girls the Musical is a heart-warming celebration of friendship, courage, and the simple joys of life, brought to the stage by the talented duo of Gary Barlow and Tim Firth, based on Firth's original play and the motion picture written by Firth and Juliette Towhidi. Inspired by true events, this version (directed by Jonathan O’Boyle) centres around a group of women in a small Yorkshire Women's Institute. When one of their husbands tragically passes away from leukaemia, the women decide to create a daring calendar featuring themselves in the nude to raise money for a noble cause. The idea challenges societal norms and tests their friendships as they face the humorous and poignant consequences of their unconventional project.
The ensemble, led by Marie (Paula Tappendan), consists of the delightful Annie (Tanya Franks), the reserved Ruth (Maureen Nolan), the vivacious Jessie (Lyn Paul), the fiery Chris (Amy Robbins), the charming Celia (Marti Webb), and the free-spirited Cora (Honeysuckle Weeks). Each character is portrayed with finesse and authenticity, and it would be unfair to single out a standout performance. The cast displays wonderful singing voices, impeccable comic timing and heartfelt emotion, creating an ensemble with great chemistry that truly makes their friendship believable. Each character has their moments to shine, and it's their individual and collective charisma that draws the audience into their world.
The strength of Calendar Girls the Musical lies in its moderately paced storytelling, which allows the audience to fully engage with the authenticity of the events. The musical is firmly rooted in the ordinary, and this is what makes it so believable. The metaphor of the sunflower, tracking the sun, becomes a poignant symbol throughout the show, representing the resilience and growth of the characters as they embrace life's challenges. The infectious nature of their friendship is what truly makes the audience fall in love with these characters. As the climax approaches, the last 20 minutes of the show are a highlight, as the characters take turns to pose for the famous calendar photos. This cheeky, imaginative, and downright fun sequence showcases the characters' audacity and camaraderie.
Barlow and Firth breathe new life into this version. With Jordan Alexander at the helm of musical direction, the music in the production is a delightful blend of pop-infused melodies that are both entertaining and easily accessible, enhancing the overall charm of the show. Gary McCann's set design seamlessly transitions the audience from the community hall to the hospital waiting room and finally to the WI Conference Hall. Coupled with Nick Richings' beautiful lighting, this intimate design immerses the audience, making them feel like they are part of the community. Calendar Girls the Musical is a production full of heart and charm. While it undoubtedly resonates with those who are already acquainted with the story from the film, it also has the power to captivate and delight new audiences who are experiencing it for the first time. The impact of the show is evident through the reactions of the audience, as a dear friend who joined me for the performance turned and expressed, "That was truly special." And I wholeheartedly agree. The musical's celebration of friendship, courage, and the joy of life makes it an unforgettable and touching experience for all.
Calendar Girls the Musical is playing at New Wimbledon Theatre until 4 Nov and will be touring to various venues in the UK. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.
AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | Photography by Alex Harvey-Brown