Thank you to the Wales Millennium Centre (WMC) for our press tickets to Calendar Girls the Musical which is now showing at the WMC Cardiff until Saturday 11th May.
Review: Calendar Girls the Musical at the WMC
This heartwarming musical tells the real life story of a group of middle aged Yorkshire women who challenge the status quo at the Women’s Institute (WI) with hilarious consequences. The women who are friends already, become even more united in the face of adversity as Annie, (Sarah Jane Buckley) one of their members, loses her husband to cancer.
To honour the memory of Annie’s husband, the ladies set themselves the goal of selling calendars to fundraise for a sofa at the hospital’s relatives room. But it soon becomes clear that their usual calendar of church photos will not pass muster. So instead, the sassy and full of life Chris (Rebecca Storm), has the ingenious idea of them all posing nude for a one in a lifetime WI calendar.
From the first scene you are whisked away to beautiful Yorkshire with its idyllic country side of rolling hills. The backdrop through-out was stunning, with subtle changes to the set and lighting to create a real close village feel.
Underneath the main plot line are a quilt like tapestry of interwoven stories and insights into the women’s lives. Through the clever use of melancholic music and lyrics, the inner thoughts of these strong women are shared to show a much more vulnerable side.
The musical does not shy away from the grief that is felt through the loss of a loved one. In fact, the first half, whilst dotted with humour, is humbly heart wrenching. Having just gone through a year in which my own father has battled with cancer, and has thankfully come out the other side, I personally did not find this an easy watch. The use of a prolonged and uneasy silence as the reality of grief set in and the first half curtain fell, was enough to guarantee a stream of tears from me.
The second half is more upbeat, both in terms of the songs and the humour. This half focuses on the women fighting back in their own way, to make what difference they can. We see them each tackle their own inner demons and hang-ups to stick their fingers up to conformity and to produce a nude calendar in the face of challenge.
A special treat was the relationship between Chris and her son, Danny (Danny Howker). Howker was just brilliant, he had fantastic witty one liners and funny songs to sing which ensured laugh out loud moments every time he set foot on the stage.
Whilst the leads Buckley and Storm were fantastic, Calendar the Musical felt much more of an equal production than others I’ve seen, and gave each of the ladies an opportunity to shine. The casting was packed with familiar faces, whilst some more musically talented than others, they could all hold their own and their harmonies were spot on.
Sue Devaney (who played Cora) and who reminded me of a mini Julie Walters, had a jaw dropping good voice and was very funny as the single mum and daughter of a vicar. I also particularly enjoyed the solo performances of Ruth (Julia Hills) hugging her bottle of vodka and singing “My Russian friend and I” and that of Celia (Lisa Maxwell) who admitted “I’ve Had a Little Work Done”. Lesley Joseph was also great in her role as the older WI member who wouldn’t let her age get in the way. Of course, the un-robing at the end was executed brilliantly with all the buns, lettuces and the rest of the props perfectly set to retain their modesty.
Whilst I didn’t leave the show humming any of the tunes, I did enjoy the musical score and I marvelled at the clever lyrics in each and every song. Firth and Barlow make a wonderful pairing ensuring a musical which is perfectly befitting to the heartfelt story being told. There is no doubt that this is a musical that will tug on your heart strings, so if you are going, just make sure you remember your tissues!
Calendar Girls the Musical is at the WMC and is showing until 11th May 2019.
Booking at: www.wmc.org.uk
Thank you to Wales Millennium Centre for inviting us to the press night of Calendar Girls the Musical.
All photos courteous of the WMC.