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Calendar Girls The Musical at Birmingham Hippodrome - Review

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by Alison Brinkworth (subscribe)
Freelance journalist in Birmingham with a passion for the dynamic theatre, art, food and fashion scene in Britain's 'Second City'.
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Gary Barlow Songs Added To Well Known Tale
Millions of people have enjoyed the emotional film and play of Calendar Girls but this musical written with Take That's Gary Barlow evolves the story further.

Calendar girls the musical, Lesley Josephs, Birmingham Hippodrome
A well known cast in Calendar Girls The Musical


Calendar Girls The Musical is on its first UK tour following a stint in London's West End and I caught it during its stop-off at Birmingham Hippodrome, where it stays until June 8.

While the main new element is obviously the music, this show offers something fresh to the story seen in the film and play, homing in on more characters at the Women's Institute (WI) and village life in Yorkshire.

There's even new storylines with the welcome addition of hilarious teenage characters, making the show much funnier with an element of hope for the future.

It works well in a balancing act with the heartbreaking sadness that engulfs the auditorium as issues of love, loss, loneliness and cancer are tackled in a clever, frank and honest way. Be warned - you will cry.

Calendar Girls The Musical is inspired by the now well-known true story about a group of ladies from the Yorkshire village of Cracoe who appeared nude for a WI calendar to raise money for a settee in their local hospital.

The settee was in memory of one of the member's husbands, who died from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma; and what seemed controversial at the time became an extraordinary success, raising nearly 5million to date for cancer charity Bloodwise.

Calendar girls the musical, Lesley Josephs, Birmingham Hippodrome
The show features music by Gary Barlow


Tim Firth - Calendar Girls' original writer - has known Gary Barlow for many years and drafted him in to create the score. Their collaboration has hit the mark as the songs are excellent. They are heartfelt enough to fit perfectly into the themes with lyrics that often leave a lump in the throat. Barlow at his best.

Interestingly, since creating this Calendar Girls show (which was simply called The Girls when premiered at Leeds' Grand Theatre in 2015), Firth and Barlow have worked together again on musical The Band, featuring the music of Take That that toured to Birmingham last year.

Firth has called this a "village green musical" that is as much about the life and the people involved than the calendar plot. Don't get me wrong, that story of success is still central to the musical; but the relationships between people, the individual background to the women and the effect on their families is taken to a greater level.

The show carefully builds up through Act One with wit and endearment, ensuring that the audience feels a bond with the characters, before exploding with comedy after the interval. There's great anticipation for the nude photoshoot and it doesn't disappoint in bringing a fantastic sense of fun and camaraderie with this likeable bunch of women.

Calendar girls the musical, Lesley Josephs, Birmingham Hippodrome
Lesley Joseph plays a key role in the musical


The impressive group of actors, young and old, are essential to this working and there has been some fine casting to make everyone seem so believable. Lesley Joseph refreshingly plays a slightly more serious role than usual as retired headteacher Jessie, delivering a powerful message about age and female empowerment.

Then there is Lisa Maxwell as the ex-flight attendant Celia, who very much plays if for laughs, as does Rebecca Storm as larger than life Chris.

The funniest of all is actress Julia Hills, who many will recognise from her years as Rona in 2Point4Children. As put-upon wife Ruth, her character develops the most in the second act with the funniest song of the show - My Russian Friend and I.

Sarah Jane Buckley as widow Annie plays the "straight man" to Chris' antics beautifully and Sue Devaney, playing single mum Cora, shows her voice is as strong as her acting in song Who Wants A Silent Night?

Stealing the show, however, is the younger generation, particularly Danny Howker as lovestruck teenager Danny. He's a breath of fresh air whenever on stage.

I must admit, I thought that the emotion and comedy in the play of Calendar Girls would be a tough act to follow but this musical totally blew me away.

It's charming and seems funnier than the original, while managing to envelope you with the kindness of the human spirit.

The songs don't lose any of the raw emotion that were seen in the film or play, but they do add something extra. You'll laugh, you'll cry and you'll be glad you didn't miss out on one of the best newer musicals around.

RATING:

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Why? See hilarious bittersweet musical from Gary Barlow
When: Until June 8 2019
Phone: 0844 338 5000
Where: Birmingham Hippodrome, Hurst Street, Birmingham
Cost: From 25
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