Calendar Girls the Musical is a heartwarming and uplifting production that tells the story of a group of women in the Women's Institute (WI) who decide to pose nude for a charity calendar in order to raise money for leukemia research.
The show is based on the true story of the Calendar Girls of Yorkshire, who became an international sensation after their calendar was published in 1999. Charting the life and sadly death of husband John (Colin R Campbell - The Diplomat, Harry Potter), it shows how his wife Annie, and her WI friends, rally round to raise funds in his memory. Aided by keen photographer Rod (Graham MacDuff - Phantom of the Opera) they decide to buck tradition and create a more 'appealing' calendar.
Updated music and newly edited book by Gary Barlow & Tim Firth means this current production feels fresh and new whilst remaining as catchy and memorable as the original. The score blends traditional British folk music with modern pop and rock influences and includes plenty of very funny numbers and heart wrenching solos.
The cast of this new version is excellent, with all of the performers giving brilliantly strong performances. The leads are particularly good, they have a genuine warmth and love for each other through which you can totally believe they are a close knit group of friends. Boasting 5 'Mrs Johnstones' in the line up - all previously cast in Blood Brothers - this is an ensemble of stellar leading ladies with tongiht's Cora cover Jayne Ashley (Cilla - Cilla the Musical) surely destined to join them. Tanya Franks (EastEnders) is Annie, Maureen Nolan (The Nolans) plays Ruth, Lyn Paul (The New Seekers) is Jessie, Amy Robbins (Coronation Street) is Chris, Paula Tappenden (Theatre Star) plays Marie and Marti Webb (Tell Me on a Sunday) is Celia.
Whilst to the uninitiated, this is a show about women who strip off and make a calendar, it is so much more; in fact the calendar shoot is just a small, albeit hilarious, part of the story. It is about friendship, love, loss, and community, about celebrating life in the face of death and about standing tall and believing in oneself.
Designer Gary McCann has created a set and costumes which whilst quite simple in design are very effective, helping to create the atmosphere of the Yorkshire countryside through instantly recogniseable scenes such as a village hall and a hospital waiting room. The costumes are 'spot on' and instantly reflect the characters' personalities and social positions, often to much hilarity as I am sure many in the audience either saw themselves or certainly close friends.
This is a show for all ages, men and women, and will make you laugh and cry but ultimately leave you loving life just a little bit more. It is a heartwarming, uplifting and entertaining show that will leave you feeling good long after the curtain falls, tho you may look twice when being offered an iced bun next time you're at the village fair.