Calendar Girls – The Musical at Bath Theatre Royal

IN many ways, the combination of names above the show title, Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s Calendar Girls-The Musical, tells you all you need to know about this telling of the now well-known story of members of a Yorkshire WI who have raised millions of pounds for  cancer charities through posing for a nude calendar.

When Tim Frith and Juliette Towhidi initially set about adapting this moving story, doubts were expressed among those involved in the initial project about changing some of the storyline and characters in order to make the story more dramatically acceptable as a film script. In spite of the film’s tremendous success, not all the of that same group were convinced that it was a good idea for Tim Firth to convert the story into a stage play, but once again the public flocked to see the stage production.

Now, with long-time friend Gary Barlow supplying an original score, Tim Firth has converted the Calendar Girls story into a musical, and in so doing drifted a little further from the original concept and personal stories of this group of wonderfully brave ladies who started out to raise a few hundred pounds to buy a sofa for the waiting room of their local hospital, in memory of one of their members’ husbands who had died from cancer, and up to date have raised more than five million pounds.

When I first saw this production in July at the Bristol Hippodrome, or to be more correct half of it (we were all sent home at half time because of the collapse of a member of the audience) I confess to having a few doubts as to whether or not making it into a full scale musical had added much to the show.

Four months on with some changes in cast and a much more relaxed presentation I have to say that if the show is judged on its own merits, as a musical rather than the play, it has a great deal to offer.

Sarah Jane Buckley as the bereaved Annie and Rebecca Storm as Chris who originates the idea of a Nude Calendar lead a group which has now become a real team. Made up of Ruth Madoc (Jessie) the elderly retired school teacher milking her solo number for every last drop of audience response, a beautifully judged Ruth, full of doubts about the project, from Julia Hills, two feisty ladies, Cora a single parent  and Celia, battling against local social mafia from Sue Devaney and Lisa Maxwell, and Judy Holt’s hidebound traditionalist WI President.

Pushing them hard throughout are Tyler Dobbs, Danny Howker and Isobel Caswell representing the younger generation, making their characters far more clear cut than they were four months ago.

The musical content fits the rather more sentimental view of the story very well, and receives full value in presentation from singers, soloists, full company, and musicians alike.

If you’re looking for the drama and natural comedy of the original, go back to the film or find a production of the play, but if you are looking for a musical with a gentle sting in its tale and plenty to enjoy en-route, give this version of the story a try. You will not be disappointed.


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