It’s official. Anything can now be made into a musical. Many stories don’t need the stage treatment, though I should reconsider this fact when talking about this show. Though the Calendar Girls inspiring story has already trod the boards thanks to a play version, now the most performed work by amateur theatre groups. Whilst the film made this curious Women’s Institute tale known to millions, what do we gain from this musical version?
Take That’s Gary Barlow and Tim Firth (original writer of the film/play) have created a musical that leaves you inspired and roused, yet without being able to recall a single, memorable song. The opening number ‘Yorkshire’ had faint reminiscent chords similar to Mr Blue Sky by E.L.O. and the feeling shifts to songs that are not in anyway interesting, to cheap imitations. Some of the lyrics and rhyming schemes are below average, though the book gets some well deserved funny riffs. The songs lacked an emotional punch, even in the saddest parts of the story. I found it puzzling that a selection of British supermarkets got more mentions then the word “cancer”, itself.
The very slow first act ended with two fairly decent songs and we were ready for all of the ladies to strip off (never thought I would ever say that), something we would witness towards the end of the night. The Dales being the back drop scenery were pretty, yet had little use and could have done with some imagination put towards it. The sound a piano coming out of billed “organ” (you can imagine the puns here) is also odd.
The best parts would have to be the May Day fete and the famous nude photoshoot. The former is absurd, with youthful innuendo on virginity, an overload of rock hard scones and snobbish village mindsets. The latter being the defining moment, where all the characters (and therefore the live performers) get their kit off for the tasteful and inspired famous calendar photographs. These are some moments where we root for them, proven with the screams, laughs and applause every time one of them disrobes. The male gaze would be completely absent here were it not for the presence of photographer Lawrence, played by a wry Derek Elroy.
The cast is a large mass of talents. The group of WI women are great forces here including the likes of Sarah Jane Buckley, Julia Hills, Sue Devaney and Judy Holt, amongst others. Lesley Joseph as Jessie got some of the best one liners and her song ‘What Age Expects’ may not be brilliant, still featured some insightful views about getting older. Tyler Hobbs as Tommo and Danny Howker as Danny, are a youthful injection of boyish charm and cheeky coming of age troupes. We’ll excuse the fact that Tommo is not seen in the second act until the very end then. Jenny is here played by Isabel Caswel, a moody role, though some forcing of the accent and sung voice at times must be encouraged. Had music director Nick Pinchbeck, not taken a bow on stage, I would have had no idea there was in fact a live band for the show. The pit was covered with front stall seats and they must have played backstage? Good way to get more of an audience in.
Though the songs may falter, it is the message of older female generations embracing body positivity through a bizarre fundraiser (things like this are close to my heart) that really make this story worth seeing. Though I would recommend you watch the film if you haven’t already.
*Side note* I was genuinely surprised there were not buckets for donations to Bloodwise (the blood cancer charity), as we all left the venue. It was almost entirely expected.
Calendar Girls – The Musical continues at the Wales Millennium Centre till 11th May 2019.