Calendar Girls the Musical is a heartwarming, emotional musical, based on the true story of the Knapely Women’s Institute who raised money for a new settee in their local hospital relatives’ room by producing a nude calendar. Although the first act begins with slightly lower energy and pacing than needed, the second act, full of well sung musical numbers and excellent humour, lifts this production, to provide an enjoyable evening at the theatre.
Tonight, there were occasional dialogue slip ups and a few microphone issues, but the cast’s genuine joy to be on stage with each other and their amusing interactions ensured the audience felt equally upbeat. Jayne Ashley, playing Cora, was notably impressive, stepping into the role as a cover and adding enthusiasm and humour to all her scenes.
Laurie Brett plays Annie with fantastic emotion throughout her scenes, particularly in her solo ‘Kilimanjaro’. There are very strong vocals from Samantha Seager as Chris, and her uplifting number ‘Sunflower’ really increases the show’s energy, laying the foundation for the second act. Lyn Paul, playing Jessie, also displays excellent vocals in her empowering number ‘What Age Expects’, whilst Maureen Nolan’s fantastic comedic singing as Ruth is shown in the amusing ‘drunk’ number, ‘My Russian Friend and I’.
The set, depicting a Yorkshire village hall, is well designed and additional signs displayed from the ceiling effectively distinguish hospital scenes and the WI National Conference location. However, adding more substantial set pieces and introducing scenes outside of the village hall would have elevated some numbers.
Having seen this musical before and listened extensively to its beautiful soundtrack, many of the changes made in this re-imagined version, such as cutting the teenage characters and replacing some songs, did not provide the desired improvements. The Calendar Girls score is already filled with such energy and joy that removing and replacing some songs did not feel entirely needed, and this was particularly evident in the first act.
The second act, however, offers well developed musical numbers, engaging dialogue, and amusing scenes. This is largely because of the comedic and inspiring number ‘One Night Only’, showing the women posing nude for their calendar alongside traditional Women’s Institute pastimes such as knitting, plum jam making and flower arranging. This, followed by the uplifting finale song ‘Sunflowers of Yorkshire’, enables the show to conclude with a heartwarming and uplifting ensemble number.
Calendar Girls involves an incredibly sad storyline depicting Annie’s husband Clarkey’s battle with cancer, but the stage show continues to be an inspiring, uplifting tale, demonstrating how the women respond to their grief and channel it into raising money for charity. It struggles slightly with pacing and energy to begin with and didn’t need the significant changes that were made from the original production. However, it remains a heartfelt musical with an uplifting score portrayed by a comedic, talented cast.
Book by: Gary Barlow and Tim Firth
Directed by: Jonathon O’Boyle
Design by: Gary McCann
Lighting by: Nick Richings
Sound by: Dan Samson
Movement Direction by: Jos Houben
Musical Direction by: Jordan Alexander
Musical Arrangements by: Malcolm Edmonstone
Additional Musical Arrangements by: Dan Keen and Jordan Alexander
Calendar Girls The Musical tours the UK until 13 April. Further information on dates and venues can be found here.