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Calendar Girls The Musical

Gary Barlow and Tim Firth

Bill Kenwright Ltd

The Lowry, Salford

January 16-20, 2024: 2 hrs 25 mins

(Also Bradford Alhambra Jan 30-Feb 3; York Grand Opera House Feb 6-10)

All on again - curtain call for Calendar Girls The Musical cr Jack Merriman
All on again - curtain call for Calendar Girls The Musical. All pics: Jack Merriman

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If you love the Calendar Girls story and want to see it wrapped up with a string of happy songs, you will probably be very pleased with this take on it.

After the film in 2003, the stage show in 2008, the first Gary Barlow musical (originally called The Girls) seen here in 2016, the 2018 revisited version as Calendar Girls The Musical and its release for amateur performers, here’s a new professional production, “with revised score and book”, which began a UK tour last August and, with various cast changes, is still on the road.

Writer Tim Firth, who’s been with it from the start, is getting the most from the concept, and so of course is Blood Cancer UK (formerly Leukaemia Research), for which the show has raised millions, and you can’t complain about that.

We all know what it’s about: the ladies of a rural West Yorkshire WI decide to raise funds with a semi-nude calendar showing their best assets, in memory of one member’s late husband, and the big drama is the photoshoot when they finally throw off their inhibitions, along with their clothes.

The idea of the musical must have been to let them bare their souls in advance of baring their skin, and so each of the half dozen we see gets a solo number, and there are ensemble pieces to keep the story moving. Trouble is, the songs are all so alike and unmemorable, and can’t stand the number of reprises forced upon some of them. You don’t get any real musical power by just taking your last verse up a key.

There’s a single set (the village hall) by Gary McCann, and when events aren’t happening there you simply have to pretend you can’t see it, and Jonathan O’Boyle’s direction creaks a bit. The “ensemble”, the cover actors, pop up now and then to move furniture, and join in the final number to boost the vocals; and the five-piece band comes over the sound system as almost all piano and bass.

It's down to the cast, then, to make what they can of it. This team are all names from TV soaps, theatre or music, and some can deliver a song better than others. Samantha Seagar (Chris) is the stand-out and puts bags of energy into the show; Maureen Nolan (Ruth) has the unenviable task of taking “My Russian Friend and I”, which attempts to make fun out of her character’s over-fondness for vodka (embarrassed laughter here and there in the audience); Lyn Paul (Jessie) gets the best individual applause of the night; and Honeysuckle Weeks (Cora) manages a distinct characterisation.

The others are Laurie Brett (Annie), Liz Carney (Marie) and Helen Pearson (Celia), and the two guys are Colin R Campbell (John) and Andrew Tuton (Rod).

More info and tickets here


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