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Joanne Riding. Photo Credit: Matt Crockett

Images/redesign/The Girls/claire-moore-as-chris-and-joanna-riding. Photo Credit: Matt Crockett

Images/redesign/The Girls/james-gaddas as john and joanna riding

The kids-THE GIRLS

Tim and Gary with the Cast

Whilst the cast from THE GIRLS take a well-earned rest over the Christmas holidays, it's been announced that £26,000 has been raised from bucket collections at each performance of the musical at Leeds Grand Theatre. The money is being donated to Bloodwise, the blood cancer charity. Volunteers from the charity were joined by cast members, theatre staff and local supporters as they held bucket collections after each show. Tim Firth adds: “This is an extraordinary fundraising figure so far and if this continues at any rate in Manchester, we could see a truly special total raised for Bloodwise.”

Tim and Gary

Tim and Gary in the Leeds Grand Theatre


The West End Girls

marian mcloughlin
Marie - Marian McLoughlin

debbie chazen
Ruth - Debbie Chazen

michele dotrice
Jessie - Michele Dotrice

joanna riding
Annie - Joanna Riding

claire machin
Cora - Claire Machin

claire moore
Chris - Claire Moore

sophie-louise dann
Celia - Sophie-Louise Dann

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theatre and Tim Firth

The Girls Musical

‘sheer joy’ THE STAGE

% Star ratings
" The best British musical since Billy Elliot "

 

THE GIRLS in the West End


Tim Firth and Gary Barlow said,
"It's been a little like tending a sunflower, from seeding it in Yorkshire to now seeing it bloom in London's West End."

 

PREVIOUSLY
sinflower Leeds Grand Theatre: 14th November - 12th December 2015
sunflower Lowry Theatre, Manchester: 8th January - 30th January 2016

 
 
 
Creatives
Written by Tim Firth and Gary Barlow
Directed by Tim Firth
Produced by David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers and The Shubert Organization
Associate Producer U-Live

Designed - Robert Jones
Lighting Designed - Tim Lutkin
Sound Designed- Terry Jardine and Nick Lidsterfor Autograph Sound
Musical Direction and Orchestrations by Richard Beadle
Musical Staging by Lizzi Gee
Casting by Sarah Bird CDG
Comedy Staging by Jos Houben
Choreographer - Stephen Mear (joined prior to Lowry production)
Assistant Director Jack Ryder
Associate Producer U-Live

Musicians
Matt Greaves - Assistant Musical Director
& Keyboard/Acoustic Guitar
Dave Cottrell - Drums/Percussion
Mark White - Trumpet/Flugal Horn/Cornet
Richard Wigley - Trombone?Bass Trombone/Euphonium
Dan Beer - French Horn
Mike Davis - Flute/Tenor Saxophone
Clair Ismail - Violin
Dave Hornberger - Cello
Ed Morris - Double Bass/Electric Bass

Tim and gary outside the Leeds Grand Theatre.  Photo Credit: Yorkshire POst Newspapers and Simon Hulme

Production
General Manager - Emma Holoway
Production Manager - Stewart Crosbie
Company Manager - Ian Stephenson
Press Representative - Amanda Malpass
Advertising and Design - Dewynters
Production Co-ordinator - Eduardo Santa Cruz
Production Assistant - Paul Muston
Production Accountant - Ayodeji Bakare
Production Lawyer - Tim Curtis

The musical The Girls is based on a true story about a group of ladies who did something extraordinary.

They decided to appear in a nude calendar in order to raise money to buy a settee for the visitor’s room of their local hospital in memory of one of their husbands who died of leukaemia - they ultimately raised over three million pounds.

 
Click above to hear the Show's Opening Number - 'Yorkshire'.

 

This musical shows life in their Yorkshire village, how it all happened, the effect on husbands, sons and daughters and ultimately how they became a global phenomenon.

The Girls is written by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth. Gary as a songwriter has written fourteen Number 1 singles, he is also a six-time recipient of the Ivor Novello Award and has sold over 50 million records worldwide.

Tim is one of Britain’s most successful playwrights having won the Olivier Award and the UK Theatre Award for best musical. Tim wrote the film and stage play Calendar Girls.

Tim and Gary both grew up in Frodsham in Cheshire and they have been friends for twenty five years.

In March 2015 a workshop production was performed in the village hall in Burnsall.

The Original CG Girls with Tim and Gary. Photo Credit: Simon Hulme

 

Songs written for the musical by Gary and Tim include Yes, I’ve Had A Little Work Done; Sunflower, What Age Expects; Yorkshire and Dare.

 

The Cast

Cast from Leeds Grand and Lowry Theatre - 2015/16

Marie - Harriet Thorpe; Ruth - Debbie Chazen; Jessie - Sara Kestelman; Annie - Joanna Riding
Cora - Claire Machin; Chris - Claire Moore; Celia - Vivien Parry; Jenny - Chloe May Jackson; Danny - Ben Hunter; Tommo - Josh Benson; Colin - Stephen Boswell; Rod - Joe Caffrey; Denis - Jeremy Clyde; Brenda - Susan Fay; Lawrence - Steve Giles; John - Richard Huw; Miss Wilson - Shirley Jameson; Lady Cavendish - Judith Street; Miss Wilson (other) - Karen West:

Cast for the Phoenix Theatre in London's West End - 2017

Marie - Marian McLoughlin
Ruth - Debbie Chazen
Jessie - Michele Dotrice
Annie - Joanna Riding
Cora - Claire Machin
Chris - Claire Moore
Celia - Sophie-Louise Dann
Jenny - Chloe May Jackson
Danny - Ben Hunter
Tommo - Josh Benson
Colin - Maxwell Hutcheon
Rod - Joe Caffrey
Dennis - Jeremy Clyde
Brenda - Soo Drouet
Lawrence - Steve Giles
John - James Gaddas
Doctor - John Davitt
Miss Wilson - Jenny Gaynor
Miss Wilson - Shirley Jameson
Lady Cavendish - Judith Street
Ensemble - Jane Lambert
Ensemble - Rebecca Louis
Ensemble - Victoria Blackburn
Ensemble - Frazer Hadfield

 

West End Reviews

It might be fair to assume that the famous story of the Yorkshire Women’s Institute ladies who posed nude for a Pirelli-style calendar has been drained dry.

But Take That’s Gary Barlow and Tim Firth have collaborated on a delightful musical that is far superior both to the 2009 play, Calendar Girls, and to the 2003 movie on which it was based. Rather than seem like a piece of cynical exploitation, the show suggests the story has now achieved its ideal form.

Part of the reason is structural. In the movie, the collective disrobing happened at the beginning. In the play, it was the first-act climax, which meant the story had nowhere to go. In the musical, however, it is the culmination of a hard-won struggle to overcome private doubts and inhibitions. The calendar is the brainchild of the go-ahead Chris, who simply wants to provide a settee for the hospital where the husband of her good friend, Annie, died of cancer. But, while Chris is eager to unclothe for charity, her colleagues take a lot of persuading. The calendar shoot thus becomes less of a lark than a means of overcoming issues such as grief, age or physical self-consciousness.

The other reason for the show’s success is that it destroys the traditional demarcation between composer and lyricist. Barlow and Firth collaborated so closely, with each invading the other’s territory, that the show has a seamless quality rare in jointly authored musicals. You see the benefit in the opening number, Yorkshire, an extended chorale that introduces all the key characters and establishes the supposedly timeless nature of life in the Dales: “The seasons come and go and yesterdays don’t change.” But the whole point of the show is to dismantle that argument and prove that, through female agency and a bit of Yorkshire gumption, a life of cosy routine can be disrupted.

Once or twice, as when the depressed Ruth explores her reliance on vodka, I felt that each woman was being formulaically given a self-exploratory solo; but even that number pays off since Ruth uses drink to quell her fears about undressing. The idea that each woman has to overcome some personal hang-up is also deftly counterpointed by the portrait of a community and a profusion of verbal gags. Sometimes Firth’s jokes have a touch of the Carry Ons: at other times, as when a harassed mum declares, “If Jesus had had teenage kids, the Bible would have been very different,” you hear an echo of Alan Bennett. But the musical works beautifully because it suggests the calendar was a way of vanquishing private demons. These women strip to conquer.

Firth’s production also keeps them well this side of caricature. Joanna Riding as Annie offers a moving portrayal of marital loss, not least in a number, Kilimanjaro, about the difficulty of dealing with daily realities. In contrast, Annie’s chum Chris, played by Claire Moore, is a cheery soul even if she is now anxious about her pubescent son. There’s good work from Debbie Chazen as the lonely Ruth, Claire Machin as a musical single mum, and Sophie-Louise Dann as a golf-club Delilah.

Robert Jones’s design, with its mountain of kitchen cabinets, imaginatively frames a show whose feelgood conclusion is genuinely earned rather than arbitrarily imposed.

Michael Billington – The Guardian

 

"Find the rules you knew and break them, / Find the roads you knew, don't take them," goes a line in Dare, one of the songs in The Girls. And that's exactly what this new, all-British musical version of the 2003 film Calendar Girls also dares to do.

It celebrates as well as commemorates a true story of a spectacular example of quiet English heroism as a group of middle-aged WI members in Yorkshire, of all shapes and sizes, threw their inhibitions to the wind to create a nude community calendar that was sold to raise funds for a memorial for the recently deceased husband of one of them.

Like Billy Elliot, it stays faithful to its sense of time and place, but also deepens and amplifies the sense of intimate connection to the audience with a series of instantly catchy and moving songs, co-written by the film's original co-screenwriter Tim Firth, newly joined by pop songwriter and performer Gary Barlow.

There's an authenticity rooted in both shows that comes from the involvement of the original creators: Firth is back on board here, also directing the show. The addition of a contemporary pop voice – Elton John for Billy Elliot, Barlow for The Girls – and the pairing of them with established theatre talents is also a canny choice, as they mutually enrich one another.

Firth, a sometime collaborator with Willy Russell, has also inherited Russell's great gift for populism. This show follows in the footsteps of the latter's Blood Brothers to tell a story that feels honest, raw and powerful.

These women are determined to make a difference – and so is this show. It puts that most unsung of constituencies – middle-aged women (ironically a huge part of the theatre ticket buying population) and hands them the microphone. It really is extraordinary to see such a spectacular line-up of West End talents blooming, just like the sunflowers that form the central motif to this show's publicity and onstage design, and holding the stage so compellingly yet utterly sympathetically.

There's a hauntingly beautiful and radiantly lovely performance from Joanna Riding, who we see becoming widowed as her husband John (James Gaddas) succumbs to cancer, and she is gloriously partnered by Claire Moore, as her best friend Chris, a woman with an effervescent practicality.

But every single one of the troupe of women who shed their clothes is warm-hearted in their naked disinhibition, And unlike The Full Monty – another show transposed to both a stage play and musical after the success of an original film – there's a much bigger nudity pay-off here that fills the heart and theatre with sheer joy. The result is the biggest British musical hit since Billy Elliot.

Mark Shenton – The Stage

 

A cynic might say that it was always only a matter of time before we were treated to a musical version of Calendar Girls. But there is no covering up the fact that this show – a collaboration between Take That’s Gary Barlow and dramatist Tim Firth – is a fresh and joyous attempt to reinvent the material rather some tired rehash with songs.

Firth co-scripted the 2003 movie and wrote the 2009 stage play. So he could be forgiven if he'd fancied a bit of a rest from readapting the real-life story of those women in the Yorkshire Dales who raised a fortune for charity by stripping off and posing for a cheeky Women’s Institute calendar after one of them lost her husband to leukaemia. But this show, which Firth also directs, clearly demonstrates how energised he and Barlow have been by the challenge of a creating a musical makeover and by the real opportunities it affords for contributing something new to a familiar tale.

The Girls opens with Barlow's stirring anthem “Yorkshire”, which extols the immutable merits of the county’s green and pleasant landscape and takes us through 12 calendar months in the life of this close-knit community. Huge piles of green-tinged cupboards and cabinets stand in for the dales in Robert Jones’s striking and droll design. The furniture is stacked so as to allow for moving effects (John's death simply signalled by his walking away up an incline) and playful ones (the doors can be opened for domestic exits and entrances). The story now climaxes with the uproarious photo-shoot; it does not follow the girls all the way to Hollywood and dissension. Instead, as they brace themselves to bare all, the characters now have the time to reassess their lives and relationships in song. 

The lyrics have a wry observational wit that's ideally suited to tracing the permeable boundary in the show between quirky humour and heartbreak. It’s because they are rooted in everyday reality that Joanna Riding’s superb Annie is able to achieve such unforced poignancy when she delivers the two beautiful ballads “Scarborough” and “Kilimanjaro”. In the first, thoughts of their annual seaside holiday are darkened by speculative sorrow as she tries to imagine its familiar routines without her husband. In the second, she sings with a piercing, down-to-earth poetry about the painful practical chores that face the bereaved, such as donating the loved one's clothes to a charity shop: “Take a pair of shoes that danced last New Year’s Eve/Then give them to a grateful stranger and leave.” She may never get to the lonely mountains where the gentle John had dreamed of going on a fundraising trek but she knows now that, to those cut off by grief, “there is nothing in Nepal/More scary than the step from the kitchen to the hall”.

The lovely melodies in Barlow’s beguiling score sometimes have a distinctively British sound as though he's been channelling the Parry of “Jerusalem” (which we hear in blasts) and mid-period Beatles. The 10-piece band, rich in brass instruments, does the score handsome justice. I think that Victoria Wood would have approved.

Firth has incorporated a new sub-plot that counterpoints the ladies' uncomfortable memories of teenage indiscretion, dredged up by the impending strip, with the adolescent anxieties (“Hello Yorkshire, I'm a virgin”) of would-be head boy, Danny, adorably played in all his hapless Philip Larkin-quoting righteousness by Ben Hunter. It’s feels a bit schematic that Claire Machin’s gloriously gutsy Chris, the driving force behind the calendar scheme, here backs out of it (for a while) when she thinks that her son is going off the rails because of her bad example. But it sets up a powerful scene in which Chris makes a sudden last-minute appearance at the National Conference of the Women's Institute to support her best friend Annie as she prepares to take on the forces of prejudice.

The cracking female ensemble includes Sophie-Louise Dann as Celia, who pouts with pride about her cosmetically enhanced cleavage (“Your dress codes don't apply/When you're Miss July,” she imagines telling the stuffy golf-club committee in “So I’ve Had A Little Work Done”) and Michelle Dotrice, who is a delight as Jessie, the retired teacher whose watchword is never to do what age expects of you.

The climactic photo-shoot is hilariously well-timed and springs surprises that I won't spoil as the women whip their kit off behind those strategically placed buns et al. The uplift in the finale of many musicals feels empty because the sequences airbrush away too much of the pain that went before. But the sunflower was seeded by John as symbol of life-seeking persistence (“Like a sunflower following the sun/Won’t give up until the day is done”), so it’s both inspiring and poignant when a great bank of these blooms rears up as the backdrop to the closing scene. Even the most glowing memorial can't suppress feelings of loss.  

If you think that “wiping away tears of laughter and sorrow” is one those activities that, like “rolling in the aisles”, only happens in reviews, you give should this show a visit. I suspect that it's going to be on a long time. Among other things, it’s the definitive riposte to any notion that the calendar girls are getting overexposed.

Paul Taylor – The Independent

 

Helpless, really: I was putty in its hands. And I caught it a few days late, so no risk that the ecstatic giggles in the stalls or the standing ovation were contrived by artful first-night insiders. No, it is a happy thing: this musical about sadness, loss, betrayal and imperfect female bodies getting their kit off for charity. Happy because human, a loving tribute to rural England, friendship and ordinariness.
 
Fact is, It made me cry. Not just the at delicate sadness of the cancer story, as James Gaddas’ decent funny kind John declines through the first half , and Joanna Riding as his Annie – in a standout, starry, subtle performance – sings the most beautiful of wistful domestic laments in advance. It wasn’t even just when John finally rose hairless and unafraid from his wheelchair to climb out of sight over a set of Yorkshire Fells made – in a witty design by Robert Jones – entirely of kitchen cabinets.

No. The tears really were a tribute to the way that Tim Firth celebrates unpretending commonplace lives: ordinary loves, jokes, rivalries, pretensions, communities and families. He did it before, without needing to piggyback on a famous film (which of course is his too: Calendar Girls, based on the true story of a small WI embarking on a witty nude calendar). For a few years back Firth gave us at the Crucible in Sheffield a marvellous studio musical This Is My Family.  This bigger show – jointly with Gary Barlow – is recognizably of the same family in its elegiacally comic tone and the way it uses music to lift and launch a message of endurance and wry affection, because real life is “all about coping, fabulously, with terrible mistakes” . The lines are just as slyly surprising too: Cora the choirmistress remembering “I started my career as a mother behind Morrison’s with a blues guitarist” , and the outing of Celia the ex-air-hostess as having “increased the capacity of her overhead lockers – who cares how silicone is the valley?"

Interestingly, my companion found the first half too slow, impatient for the eureka moment when the flirtiest of the women –  Claire Moore as Chris  – gets the calendar idea. But me I just enjoyed the build up , harmonic set-pieces and all: the Christmas float, the WI meeting, the flirting teenagers and the fete where “Every year on the first of May / England puts Englishness out on display / Showing how fun used to be/ Sometime around 1683..”
 
Yes, sharp enough. The second half takes us into the conflict and argument, with a few lovely cameos from the husbands about how rarely they actually see full wifely nudity “like in the film Jaws, you never see all of the shark”. And, of course there is the vigorously staged hilarity of the photo-session. It is a true ensemble, where every one of the cast shines: Riding is centrally remarkable, as is Moore, but there is some beautiful work from Debbie Chazen as reluctant Ruth, from Michele Dotrice’s doughty old Jessie and from the teenagers, especially Chloe May Jackson. Tim Firth himself directs, with Jos Houben credited for “comedy staging”, which pays off very nicely indeed.

But the main fact is, I did tend to keep on crying. It is an unusual fit for the unforgiving West End, but deserves a very good run indeed.

Libby Purves - theatrecat

 

Following the 2003 film and a play, a musical version of Calendar Girls was the obvious next step for this true story about a group of Yorkshire WI members who decide to pose for a nude calendar to raise money for a hospital sofa after one of them loses her husband to leukaemia.

It’s a story of salt-of-the-earth folk that just stays the right side of caricature and the humour is a gentle mix of the observational and good old British sauce. Let’s face it, you can never go wrong with a phallic vegetable. It’s good to see a show with a cast made up of more mature women and when we finally get to the shooting of the calendar, it’s all handled in the best possible taste and played with panache, courage and dignity.

At the show’s centre are nicely judged performances from Joanna Riding as the widowed Annie and Claire Moore as her feisty friend Chris who comes up with the idea for the calendar. They receive fine support from the other “girls”, including Sophie-Louise Dann and Michele Dotrice as the wife of the golf club captain and the retired village schoolteacher respectively. 

It’s written and directed by Tim Firth, who also penned the film and the subsequent play, with an original score by Gary Barlow. The hard-hearted might feel that making a musical version is draining a great story of every last drop, but structurally the show is quite different from the movie. Here, stripping for the photoshoot becomes the climax, whereas the film went further and dealt with the publicity the women’s venture generated. 

Because we know where the story is heading, the first act, while charming and nicely played, does at times feel a bit like treading water. The idea for the calendar doesn’t come until the last moment before the interval. The second act is a much perkier affair as the cast really have something to get their teeth into. The pace quickens and the jokes hit the mark.

Firth doesn’t take any ground-breaking chances with his direction and the production is all the better for it because this is a show with enormous heart and the story doesn’t need bells and whistles to capture our emotions. That said, the moment of John’s passing is beautifully handled and a directorial masterstroke.

Barlow’s score soars and presses all the right buttons on standout and distinctly hummable songs Dare and Scarborough, but is mostly a functional accompaniment to Firth’s touching and often very funny lyrics.

In the end you’d have to be pretty cynical not to be moved and cheered by a show that makes no excuses for celebrating the human spirit and championing ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Tony Peters - Radio Times

 

You'd have to have a heart dry as an old sunflower seed not to moved by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth's musical version of The Calendar Girls. Based on the – by now very familiar – story of a Yorkshire WI group who posed for a nude calendar to raise money after the husband of one of their members, Annie, died of cancer, the musical follows the hit film and play of the story (both also by Firth). But it proves a tale that still has the capacity to raise a smile – as well as funds for Bloodwise, a cancer charity.

It's a cosy affair, with a pleasing score from Barlow, but not without flaws. Structurally, the show is lop-sided: they don't hit on the calendar idea until the interval, giving the first half the slight feel of treading water, even if it does let us get to know the dying man who plants sunflowers "because they always find the light". But attempts to introduce conflict – a teenage boy is embarrassed by his mother's escapades and goes "off the rails" – are feeble: he's a head boy who's only fault is to pal sexlessly up with a sullen new girl and neck a couple of WKDs. As rebellions go, it's about as shocking as using cherries instead of sultanas in the scone baking competition. Ben Hunter brings more charm to the role than it deserves.

For a long while, it also feels like you could be watching Brexit Britain: The Musical, with bursts of "Jerusalem" and village fetes, everyone eating chips and drinking tea. England's "green and pleasant land" is created through banks of painted cupboards. Even the sodding clouds are of bunting. There's a background hum of some pretty retro sexual politics, too: a joke about a busty middle-aged woman "grooming" a teenager wouldn't be played for laughs if the genders were reversed, there's a pun-tastic song about plastic surgery, and the fact that these brilliant mature performers are referred to throughout as "girls" just rankles, frankly.

Oh, but all this gets swept away in a tide of good will, really. The pace picks up in the much better second half, and the calendar shoot, iced buns strategically in place, is both very funny and utterly cheering. These girls – no, women – are wonderful; not a dud note. It still feels rare and richly rewarding to see a musical with an older ensemble, and a 40-year friendship between Annie and Chris, especially, is beautifully brought to life by Joanna Riding and Claire Moore.

The score is predictably piano-led, although it also often swells with the plangent sound of a brass band (the whole thing is constantly underlined as Very Yorkshire). But Firth and Barlow deserve credit for their light touch with the sadder elements of the story. It would have been easy to make this desperately mawkish, but the portrait of grief is finely wrought, especially with Riding's sensitive performance.

The hummable "Scarborough" sees Annie contemplating her husband's death by wondering who'll help her change the duvet covers. In ‘Kilimanjaro', it's climbing the stairs to bed alone that's a real challenge, not a charity hike up a mountain. If lyrics occasionally strain too hard to be salt-of-the-earth – featuring squabbles over margarine in Tesco – for the most part, the music marries effectively to the everyday cadences and quotidian details of ordinary lives.

You probably know before reading a review whether a Barlow Brit-flick musical will be your cup of tea or not. And for a show that tries to present these women as unconventional, this is a deeply conventional show. Yet The Girls also blossoms into a feel-good hit as bright as a field of sunflowers. Sometimes, we need to turn towards the light.

Holly Williams – What’s on Stage

With double D-cups of fun and feeling, the good calendar ladies of that Yorkshire Women’s Institute branch have loosened their stays again – this time in a West End musical co-written by Gary Barlow.

Fruity comic acting, big songs, a judicious mix of schmaltz and Yorkshire salt: this show will have you wobbling one way or another. What a liberation it is to see sensible, life-loving women showing us their all. 

I’ve not seen a finer selection of full-fat rumps since the Royal Three Counties country show.
The story of Rylstone & District WI, which in 1999 did a nude calendar to raise money for charity, has already been a film and a play. 

This musical, seen last year in development out of town, has now opened just off Shaftesbury Avenue at the slightly careworn Phoenix.

In the story, one of the institute ladies is widowed. The branch decides to raise money for a new sofa in the family wing at Skipton General Hospital. The calendar sells so many copies, they end up building a new wing.

By the time this show closes, I’d say the Phoenix Theatre’s owners should at least be able to make the stalls seats a bit more comfortable.

Many of the cast members from the regional run have been retained, including Joanna Riding as widowed Annie and Claire Moore as her irrepressible best friend Chris. 

These two carry much of the show and are well matched, Miss Riding singing a lovely song about Annie remembering trips to Tesco with her husband (James Gaddas). 

It’s terrifically rooted, this show. Strong, uncomplaining English people stick together and overcome loss.

Claire Machin is glorious as a single-mum organist, Sophie-Louise Dann growls as a golf-club cougar, Debbie Chazen stares into her character’s bottle of vodka and sings to ‘My Russian Friend’. 

We even have Michele Dotrice (no Maria Callas, she, it has to be said) as a retired school marm who agrees to whip off her kit.

A couple of Barlow’s songs, among them the opening Yorkshire and So I Had A Little Work Done, sound like instant classics.

You’ll cry, both with laughter and unstoppable sentiment as the ladies cast aside their smalls in solidarity against that ‘cheating, sly, conniving, silent bloody disease, cancer’. Bravo. Breast of British.

Quentin Letts - Daily Mail

 

Can a women-led British musical succeed in the West End? I ask this only because in the past few years, we’ve seen both Made in Dagenham and Bend It Like Beckham meet with broad approval (ecstatic, actually, in the case of the latter) but fail to show much staying-power at the box-office.

The Girls, based on the hugely popular, much loved Calendar Girls film of 2003 (and the lucrative, if less admired stage-play of 2008) might just crack it. For starters, it can count on coach-loads of ladies from the WI and parties of Take That fans. After all, it’s based on the true story of the WI pals from the Yorkshire village of Rylstone who posed in the cheekily concealed nuddy for a charity calendar that made the headlines in 1999. And Take That’s frontman Gary Barlow – joining scriptwriter, and fellow Cheshire-ite, Tim Firth, who also directs – has penned a baker’s dozen of numbers packed with more-ish sentimentality and glazed with a feel-good sheen.

I’m not going to beat about the baps, though. This show has been in try-out since early last year but despite much diligent polishing and the raw potency of the score (if you have heart-strings, prepare for them to be tugged), it’s not quite up there with the celluloid original, which starred Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, though it’s a definite advance on the play. 

Technically, it’s entirely apt for the big reveal to come at the show’s denouement but the storyline is apron-string thin as a consequence (none of the film’s second-half wrangling in the wake of sudden onset celebrity has been included). While it does mean there is added scope for a touchy-feely exploration of the leading ladies’ emotional states, from anxieties about body image to the grief of widowed Annie (Joanna Riding) over the death of her husband, the characterisation is also on the slender side.

“It is what it is,” an audience-member rather sniffily remarked when an enthusiastic usher asked for his verdict during the interval. Well, yes, there’s no staking a claim for this as the next Matilda or Billy Elliot. Yet I feel absurdly curmudgeonly damning it with faint praise. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Were there moments when I was fighting back the tears? Yes again. 

The design is far beyond sniping at: Robert Jones has studded picturesque rolling hills with domestic wooden cupboards, bringing the 'green and pleasant land’ aspect of the surroundings literally home - while florists Chris and Rod’s buckets of sunflowers become an all-engulfing motif. The sound of it, too, is unrelentingly gorgeous and stirring, whether it’s solos or rousing communal outpourings.

Riding’s Annie breaks your heart twice – first with Scarborough, in which she recalls holidaying with her late husband, then Kilimanjaro, in which every moment now spent alone is likened to a mountain climb. And the WI should adopt What Age Expects, a ditty of defiance at advancing infirmity and the patronising that goes with it – spiritedly sung by Michele Dotrice’s Jessie – as its anthem.

The musical arrangements are as finessed as the placements of WI paraphernalia – cake-stand, jam-stall and supersized trophy – with which the ladies’ modesty is preserved during the frantic, wham-bam photo-shoot finale. Not a fully rounded pleasure, then, but for all its obvious blemishes, it’s still a beaut.

Dominic Cavendish – The Telegraph

 

The Girls is a musical comedy, newly opened at the Phoenix Theatre in London’s West End. Based on the film Calendar Girls and the true events which inspired it, it has now been transformed into a musical by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth.

After successful runs at Manchester’s Lowry Theatre and Leeds’ Grand Theatre, The Girls has now transferred to the glittering West End. We went to the show’s opening preview to experience the show for ourselves.

The Girls is based on the true story of the Yorkshire Calendar Girls, where a group of ladies from Knapeley Woman’s Institute get together and do something extraordinary. At the heart of it all is Annie Clarke (Joanna Riding) who loses her husband John (James Gaddas) to illness.

With John being a pillar of the community, Annie’s best friend Chris (Claire Moore) comes up with an unusual method in which they can raise money for a new sofa at the hospital in John’s memory.

Chris suggests that they do a nude calendar, using your stereotypical WI related things as props to cover up. At first, the idea is horrifying to the other members, with many not wanting to strip off, and leader Marie (Marian McLoughlin) disgusted at the thought of the WI being associated with it. However, in the end Chris and Annie manage to win the other ladies round, and they produce a calendar which goes on to completely exceed their expectations.

Having seen the film many years ago, we had a vague idea of the plot itself, however, we were unsure how it would work as a musical. Needless to say, with Barlow and Firth at the writing helm, there was no need to worry as they have created something truly magical.

From start to finish, we couldn’t stop simultaneously laughing and crying. There was heartache at the centre of the story, with John’s passing pushing our emotional boundaries to the limit. Joanna Riding was truly superb as Annie – full of emotion, which really hit a nerve. We also cried many a happy tear, particularly near the end of the musical.

However, there was also laughter in abundance. Claire Moore is a hoot and was the perfect casting for Chris. A fantastic character with a gutsy attitude, she had us in hysterics throughout and her chemistry with Joanna ensured that Chris and Annie were the perfect double act.

We had a lot of love for the other WI ladies too. Debbie Chazen, Sophie-Louise Dann, Michele Dotrice and Claire Machin (Ruth, Celia, Jessie and Cora respectively) were full of fun and confidence. They too had a wonderful chemistry, and we found ourselves rooting for them throughout. Their one liners and facial expressions stole the show at times.

There was also a hilarious part when the ladies were discussing getting naked in front of their partners, and Michele Dotrice’s Jessie said that there’s only one man that she has ever gotten undressed for, meaning her husband. However, one of the audience members shouted out ‘Gary Barlow’ which caused mass hysteria on the stage and throughout the theatre.

We must also give a special mention to the three young cast members who played the children of some of the WI women. The characters of Danny (Ben Hunter), Jenny (Chloe May Jackson) and Tommo (Josh Benson) were at the centre of sub plots and provided plenty of laugh out loud moments. In particular, Ben Hunter really stole the show as Chris’ son Danny. In his quest to become head boy, and falling for Jenny, Danny was a source of hilarity throughout and provided some fantastic moments, brilliantly delivered by Ben.

Whilst the musical derived from a tragic circumstance, the community spirit and friendship within the story is really something quite special and was perfectly portrayed throughout. Combined with emotion-filled songs such as ‘Dare’ and an effective stage design, the musical is completely breathtaking. There were a couple of first-night hiccups, however, that is to be expected and we can imagine they’ll be ironed out over the next few days.

As the show came to an end, the cast received an incredible eight minute standing ovation. The audience reaction was unlike anything we’d ever seen or heard, which wasn’t a surprise considering that it was a full house.

We were also treated to a few surprises during the curtain call. The producers made their way to the stage to thank the audience, and in the process they introduced the original Calendar Girls to the stage! It was a truly special moment to see their reaction, as their story had inspired the wonderful show that we’d witnessed. As a final surprise, writers Gary Barlow and Tim Firth were brought onto the stage. Gary even performed his version of ‘Dare’ with the cast, which made an incredible night even more special.

We highly recommend that you take a visit to the Phoenix Theatre to see The Girls – it’s hard to put into words just how enchanting it is. The Girls is an inspiring musical with an enormous heart, which will leave you feeling like you can do anything you put your mind to.

CelebMix – Katrina Rees

 

The Reviews

The Girls Musical review at the Grand Theatre, Leeds – ‘brilliant’

Twelve years after its release as a film, and seven years since its debut as a stage play, writer Tim Firth has turned Calendar Girls into a musical with Take That’s Gary Barlow. Except this time it’s just called The Girls.

Quite why the calendar part has been dropped is anyone’s guess (you’d have thought it would be more instantly recognisable to paying audiences), but what Firth and Barlow have created together is an evening of pure theatrical joy, as moving and tender as it is funny and entertaining.

CRACKER SHOT
Vivien Parry, Debbie Chazen, Claire Moore, Joanna Riding, Sara Kestelman and Claire Machin in The GIrls Musical. Photo: Matt Crockett

Click here to read all the reviews......

 

The story is known to most – Yorkshire lass Annie (a stunning Joanna Riding) loses husband John (James Gaddas) to cancer. Her Women’s Institute friends rally round to find a way to pay tribute to the man they all loved and decide on a nude calendar. The profits will buy a couch for the hospital that cared for John, and their journey to the moment of derobing in turn forces each of the women to assess their own relationships and inner conflicts.

It’s not the deepest of scripts – for the most part it’s light and frothy – but Firth keeps the pace moving and the audience’s emotions changing. Just as you’re wiping tears from your eyes as you watch Annie coming to terms with her imminent loss in a hospital ward, you’re laughing at best friend Chris (a brilliant and ballsy Claire Moore), who steals a wheelchair and boasts, “You have no idea how quickly I just got served.”

The laughs, in fact, come thick and fast. The song’s lyrics are simple, but genuinely funny, whether they’re referring to shopping at Tesco, or being sung by teenagers reflecting on the damage inflicted on them by their parents. “Look in the eye, of your dear fucker upper,” one of them sings. It’s brilliant.

Barlow’s music isn’t the star here, but it ably serves the piece. There are some lovely melodies, but each song seems an extension of the script, making this show more a play with songs than a traditional musical.

Designer Robert Jones has created a striking set, with drawers, cupboards and cabinets painted green and stacked on top of each other so that they can be climbed to create a hill (such as when John finally succumbs to cancer) or opened to provide entrances and exits. There’s a wonderful scene when a Morris Minor appears as the girls sing one of the show’s standout numbers, Dare.

And each of the cast is superb, with special mention due to Ben Hunter as Chris’s son Danny, who makes an impressive professional debut. Ultimately, however, this is Moore and Riding’s show. Both shine.

Producers have opened The Girls in Yorkshire, where the show is set, and the audience on the night I attended embraced this local story. But The Girls’ appeal is such that a West End transfer has to be on the cards. The play took nearly £35 million at the box office. It’s not hard to imagine this musical topping that.

Matthew Hemley – THE STAGE

 

The Girls, Lowry Theatre, Salford, review: 'already has the bare essentials of a classic'

They’re back! In 1999, a remarkable bevvy of Yorkshire women put the “aye!” into the WI by unveiling a fund-raising calendar that showed them discreetly posing in the nude. That caused a media sensation which inspired a smash-hit film starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters – which in turn begat a blockbuster play. The UK box-office tally for those British screen and stage beauties? £55 million!

Now comes a big-budget musical that’s steadying its nerves to bare all in the West End. “It’s still a work in progress” – the producers are pleading to national theatre critics champing at the bit to have a butcher’s. But judging by the standing ovation that greeted “The Girls” – as “Calendar Girls” has been tartly retitled – in Salford on Friday, with many in the audience also visibly moved to tears, this show is amply ripe and ready for general inspection. 

To be bluntly honest, it doesn’t match the stellar power of the movie (which, in following the ladies all the way to Hollywood, rifts emerging en route, has a more sophisticated storyline too), but it does improve on the play.

I struggled initially, admittedly, to succumb to The Girls’ charms. Tailbacks on the M6 had dampened my ardour to sneak a peek at the show, co-written by Tim Firth and Take That’s Midas-fingered Gary Barlow. I worried too that there’s now a smell of stale buns about this fictionalised account of how members from the Rylstone and District Women’s Institute got their kit off (initially just to buy a new sofa for the hospital where John Baker, the husband of one of their number, had been treated for a fatal lymphoma). What can a musical add to the sum of our appreciation, even if it generates a splash more cash for charity?

Initially, not a massive amount. Barlow has a knack for rousing anthems – he also has a tendency towards the sort of syrupy confection that slips in one ear and out the other. Both of these traits are apparent in the scene-setting opener, Yorkshire, which hymns the unchanging virtues of the green and pleasant landscape and close-knit, harmonious community by running through the year’s calendar with the innocence of a lamb gambolling on the fells; there are warming choral blasts of Jerusalem too.

All very neat, everything slotting into place as surely as the piles of verdant-coloured furniture that designer Robert Jones playfully uses to evoke the picturesque setting. Firth (who co-directs with Roger Haines) strives too to break up predictable patterns of dialogue-then-song, blending conversation into fits and starts of music, but it’s all a bit déjà-vu, déjà-heard. There’s an attempt to bolster a teen subplot, foregrounding the virginal anxieties of would-be headboy Danny, but despite a lovely performance from newcomer Ben Hunter, it’s only when the music starts mining the emotions of the older players that it reaches the skin-prickling parts few other musicals manage.

Joanna Riding’s Annie has a beautiful ballad Scarborough, in which an annual seaside jaunt with her hubby becomes invested with poignancy as she contemplates all the absences ahead – and that’s compounded later by the grief-wracked solo Kilimanjaro, in which every little hillock of time becomes a mountain of solitude to climb. 

Factor in some wry, wistful ditties from her fellows and some absolute belters (the glorious “Dare” is a stand-out) and the show starts to hit its stride of infectious defiance. Come the climax, as a brave contingent of the cast whip everything off behind strategically placed cake-stands and whatnot with cheeky aplomb, neither their actions, nor the show itself, look gratuitous. 

It takes courage to do this on stage, just as it takes courage to get through what life throws at you. Room for improvement? Sure, but I’d suggest that the bare essentials of a copper-bottomed classic are already here in abundance.

Dominic Cavendish - The Daily Telegraph

 

NEVER let beauty go to waste.

That is message of Tim Firth and Gary Barlow's The Girls and there are so many layers and meanings to that simple phrase.

It is first said by actor James Gaddas who plays National Park officer John in the musical's premiere at The Lowry.

He is referring to the natural world which he loves and it is also a term of affection for his wife Annie (Joanna Riding).

In the wider sense of the story, inspired by the real 'calendar girls' of Rylstone and District Women's Institute, it the beauty of a life well spent, of community – and, of course, a tongue-in-cheek reference to that famous calendar.

After penning the Calendar Girls film and subsequent play, former Stockton Heath Primary School pupil Tim originally thought there was little to add to the story.

But this adaptation is not so much about turning Calendar Girls into a musical as it is about showing the impact on a small town when a well-loved community figure died.

The true story follows John Baker who died five months after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1998.

We all know about the 'alternative' WI calendar that followed to raise money for the hospital where John was treated – but The Girls gives a more personal take on how Annie coped with her loss.

Barlow and Firth's 'village green musical' also makes the group's husbands and children just as much a part of the story revealing their reaction to the 'nude not naked' calendar which went on to sell 88,000 copies.

What gives The Girls its impact is that, at its heart, the story is so ordinary.

These were ordinary women who were touched by cancer like so many communities are. It was their reaction that was extraordinary.

So there are moments of sadness in the musical with the bittersweet acceptance of life as a finite thing but it is also funny, heartwarming and moving.

The stars Joanna Riding, Claire Moore, Vivien Parry, Sara Kestelman, Debbie Chazen and Claire Machin – portraying WI members and friends from all walks and stages of life – do the production proud, as do all the cast.

And, as you might expect from Barlow, the music is infectious. It will be no surprise if Who Wants A Silent Night? becomes a classic Christmas song.

The Girls also comes across as a love letter to Yorkshire – a part of the world that Firth often ventured to and where he first came across a certain calendar...

David Morgan - The Warrington Guardian

 

Review: The Girls @ Lowry

I've never seen a show where the audience has erupted with applause after the opening song.

You've probably seen, or at least heard of, the film Calendar Girls. The one where a group of ladies from a Women's Institute get their kits off for a charity calendar.

Tim Firth made the story into a film and then a stage show and has now worked with Gary Barlow (you've probably heard of him) to bring us The Girls musical.

You'll no doubt recognise some of the actors too, from their various TV appearances.
James Gaddas, who plays John, has starred in Bad Girls and Coronation Street, to name just a few, while the credits of his on stage wife Annie, Joanna Riding, include Where The Heart Is and Stella.

There is no stand out performance - rather each character plays their own part so well that it makes it nothing less than a stand out show, ('the best thing I've seen in ages' said one fan on his way out).

Don't go expecting an easy ride. No tale born out of a man's battle with cancer is going to keep the emotions at bay.

Among an audience of largely 50-somethings you could sense the loss - and hear the sniffling - around The Lowry's Lyric theatre, as it touched on the pain of losing a loved one, taking their clothes to the charity shop and sitting next to the empty chair they once sat in.

But the beauty of The Girls - which has received a standing ovation on each night of its run so far - is its ability to turn the sadness into laughter in just a split second.

Boosted by such a superb soundtrack, the musical depicts the roller coaster that is life with ease - and there are tears and jokes at every turn.

The best bits from the hit film are just as good, if not better on the stage - this time you can cheer for Chris when she 'wins' the WI cake contest with her shop bought Victoria sponge.

The three younger cast members excel in their roles as Jenny, Tommo and the hilarious Danny, played by Ben Hunter in his first major professional stage debut.

There are laughs aplenty with talk of boob jobs, 'front bums' and sex-crazed teens, and the nude photo shoot... well, that really is the icing on the cake.

Underneath it all lies the message that life is for living. Be the sunflower that seeks out the light and 'never do what your age expects'.

The ladies behind the calendar are a shining example of that. Thankfully Barlow and Firth's portrayal of them is nothing short of golden.

Emma Gill - Manchester Evening News

 

 

 

Yorkshire's own reviews...

Click to read what Yorkshire says

The Girls do Yorkshire proud in world premiere at Leeds Grand Theatre

They were ordinary Yorkshire women from the WI — who rallied together to achieve something truly amazing.

And the new musical by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth celebrating the inspirational Calendar Girls takes you on a rollercoaster ride of love, loss, hope and incredible bravery.

The Girls, which enjoyed its world premiere at The Grand Theatre, Leeds , last night, is a celebration of all things Yorkshire — our beautiful Dales, close-knit communities, our dry wit and defiant pride.

The opening number, Yorkshire , introduces the cast and sets the tone for the show's musical style — witty, conversational and full of uplifting melodies and empowering high notes.
You can't help but get drawn in to the lives of the ladies of the Knapely Women's Institute. You recognise your own family and friends in them — aunts, family friends, teachers.

Annie Clarke (played by Joanna Riding) sings about trips to the coast, arguing over margarine in Tesco and all the normal things we take for granted, the familiarity of the words makes the subsequent scenes even more painful.

But while many in the audience (including myself) shed a tear on more than one occasion, The Girls' empowering crescendo is more likely to prompt tears of joy.

This was no ordinary WI calendar — this was determined, inspirational women coming together to honour a great man, help their friend through a devastating loss and show the world exactly what they're made of.

Chris, made instantly lovable by Claire Moore, is the best friend every woman needs — loyal, confident, a bit mad — but an absolute rock. The chemistry between Chris and Annie had you in stitches one minute and fighting back the tears the next.

The penultimate scene — shooting the calendar — was the flamboyant finale everyone had been waiting for, and superb performances from the WI girls (including an unforgettable late arrival by Ruth (Debbie Chazen)) had the audience cheering them on all the way.

Josh Benson, Ben Hunter and Chloe Jackson stole many a scene as the show's youth contingent (Tommo, Danny and Jenny respectively), with the boys earning some of the biggest laughs of the night.

Because that's how Yorkshire folk deal with loss, struggles and challenges — dry wit, daft jokes, good friends and a cup of tea.

With these things, and a bit of hope, you can take on the world — and in real life, that's what the women of the Rylstone and District WI did.

Which made it all the more emotional when they joined the cast on stage at the end of the show.

And the audience in Leeds last night were given an extra treat when creators Tim Firth and Gary Barlow also appeared to lead a rousing rendition of Yorkshire during the final curtain call.
It was a special night — not just because Gary Barlow was in the building (and yes there was screaming), but because the show was a real celebration of these remarkable women.
Take a trip to the Grand — you'll find yourself laughing, crying and cheering them on too.

The Huddersfield Daily Examiner – Samantha Robinson

 

Calendar Girls’ review: a musical with heart and soul

The news is: it works and then some.

It’s a cliche to say that a show can make you laugh and cry, but The Girls does both in abundance. The musical written by Tim Firth and Gary Barlow, is based on the story of the women of the Rylstone Women’s Institute who took their kit off for a calendar and raised millions of pounds. They also created a legacy which has raised millions of smiles since Firth turned their story first into a film and then into a stage play.

Can a story so rooted in Yorkshire travel outside the county? Will a story about middle-aged women appeal to audiences outside that bracket? The reason the answer to both questions is yes, is because Tim Firth is a master craftsman. A cast as large as this means you have to display enormous finesse to move each character away from caricature. With the thinnest slivers of script, Firth brings us rich individual stories that are mere bit parts to the heart of this musical, which is ultimately a story of friendship and triumph over adversity.

Holding the strands together is the friendship of Annie and Chris. Joanna Riding as Annie and Claire Moore as Chris, absolutely inhabit their roles.

The music? Barlow knows how to write a tune. The swing inspired Who Wants a Silent Night? and the surprisingly moving What Age Expects join So I’ve Had A Little Work Done in a perfect demonstration of why this musical will do so well.

In creating a new musical with this much heart and soul, Firth and Barlow have done something that will last a long time.

The Halifax Courier

 

First Night Review: Why we love The Girls

 

The Girls is the musical written by Tim Firth and Barlow, based on the story of the women of the Rylstone Women’s Institute who took their kit off for a calendar and raised millions of pounds and created a legacy which has raised millions of smiles since Firth turned their story first into a film and then into a stage play.

One of the biggest new theatre show openings seen in Yorkshire for some time, the anticipation around this show is something I have seen rarely in my 15 years reviewing for the Yorkshire Post. Last night we found out why.

This most Yorkshire of stories is bound to travel far outside the county. I’d bet my flat cap that this show will be booked into theatres in London and around the world - the stage play went to Australia, I’m certain this will do the same. Over a decade ago I bet in these pages that a musical called Bat Boy would go to the West End. It did, but it failed. It was a great show, but it couldn’t find an audience. This show, which will follow Bat Boy into the West End, has an audience ready made: women of a certain age are the UK’s biggest buyers of theatre tickets.

When they buy tickets to see this, they will see their own lives reflected back at them.

What about the rest of us?

That was always going to be the issue. Will a story so rooted in Yorkshire travel outside the county? Will a story about middle aged women appeal to audiences outside that bracket?

The reason the answer to both questions is yes, is because Tim Firth is a master craftsman.
A cast as large as this means you have to display enormous finesse to move each character away from caricature. With the thinnest slivers of script, Firth brings us a woman who has turned to alcohol to cope with a runaway husband, a teacher who has been rendered invisible by the creeping years and a WI president whose whole life is a facade. Those individual stories are mere bit parts to the heart of this musical, which is ultimately a story of friendship and triumph over adversity.

Holding the strands together, the spine of this story, is the friendship of Annie and Chris. Joanna Riding as Annie and Claire Moore as Chris, absolutely inhabit their roles. That they look, not for even the briefest of moments, like they are acting, is as big a compliment as I can pay.

And what roles. It is their friendship that is largely responsible for the tears here.

The music? Gary Barlow knows how to write a tune. Interestingly here, his music occasionally feels incidental, complementary to Firth’s script as opposed to overpowering it. When it does grab the attention, it really grabs the attention. The swing inspired Who Wants a Silent Night? and the surprisingly moving What age Expects join So I’ve Had A Little Work Done in a perfect demonstration of why this musical will do so well.

All three songs bring to mind another female dominated story: Chicago, rendered particularly vividly in the imagination when Vivien Parry as Celia strides across the village hall chairs admitting she’s ‘Had a Little Work Done’.

I’m not saying Firth and Barlow are Kander and Ebb yet, but in creating a new musical with this much heart and not a little soul, they have done something that will last a long time.
Space is at a premium: the set is spectacular - a reason on its own to see the show; the direction, by Roger Haines vigorous and full of energy and the young cast members - well, three young stars are born in this musical.

It’s going to give us yet another reason to be proud of Yorkshire.

Nick Ahad - The Yorkshire Evening Post

 

Review: The Girls

THE crowds gathered outside and inside the Leeds Grand was jam-packed too with excited women, mobile phone cameras at the ready. The Girls press night had finally arrived and so had Gary Barlow, Take That leader, songwriter, composer and now Honorary Yorkshireman.

These are not scenes that greet those fine Leeds institutions, Northern Ballet and Opera North at the Grand, but a pop icon is a pop icon and Barlow played his part, standing for selfies a la mode on Tuesday night.

This has been a proper West End build-up to a new musical launch: previews since November 14, daily adjustments for the cast by the creative team; reports of standing ovations; still no access for the national press, but the Yorkshire media were in at last.

So too were Yorkshire television celebs; former Labour spin doctor Alistair Campbell; and five of the original Calendar Girls (Rosie was ill). So too were angels in suits who had backed the show financially; the producers; the script writer and Gary Barlow, whose first musical, Finding Neverland, had suffered a panning from the Broadway critics on its New York debut this year.
The Girls always looked a better prospect, firstly because the Calendar Girls story already has been a hit on stage and silver screen; secondly because it was opening on Yorkshire home soil; and thirdly, because Barlow was working with Tim Firth.

Barlow's fellow Honorary Yorkshireman is a writer with the golden touch, not only in his own plays but also when called on to work his magic on the Madness musical Our House and of course Calendar Girls. Go Firth and multiply the chance of success; that should be his calling card.

Fellow sons of Wirral, Barlow and Firth have known each other since they were 16 and 19 respectively, and they first talked of a Calendar Girls musical four years ago. It made perfect sense then and it still does; far from growing weary of the now infamous story, the sunflower power grows anew because a musical is by far the best format for telling that story. The saying goes that we burst into song when heightened emotions have nowhere else to go to express those feelings, and The Girls affirms its truth.

What's more, it turns out to be an advantage that we know the story, the one where gentle giant and sunflower grower John (James Gaddas) dies from cancer and his wife Annie (Joanna Riding) teams up with Knapely Women's Institute rebel Chris (Claire Moore) to defy WI chairman Marie (Harriet Thorpe) by posing with fellow members for a fund-raising nude calendar in his memory.

Tim Firth has now told it better and more wittily than before; he has judged perfectly what the crescendo should be (the stripping off one by one for the calendar); he has introduced three teenage children, who provide boundless laughs and show another side to their parents; and he has just the right balance of pathos, sadness, northern humour and a sense of bloody-minded defiance.

Barlow is a noted balladeer and dance pop mischief maker but here he adds another string to his bow: keyboard-led storytelling songs that are the essence of a modern musical, with standout setpieces such as Yorkshire, the carol-singing Who Wants A Silent Night and Sunflower, as well as exuberantly humorous numbers for Vivien Parry's Celia (So I've Had A Little Work Done) and Claire Machin's vodka-swilling Cora (My Russian Friend And I).

York actor Josh Benson is delightfully cheeky as workshy schoolboy Tommo, while Ben Hunter's disgraced headboy Danny and Chloe Jackson's wayward Jenny capture the awkward teenage journey wonderfully.

Roger Haines and Tim Firth's direction suits both intimate and ensemble scenes, while Robert Jones's set has Yorkshire as a green and pleasant Jerusalem with hills made from furniture that turns into doors and prop cupboards too. Richard Beadle's musicians span brass and strings with elan, and by the end the tears make way for cheers.

Cheers that rose still more on Tuesday when Barlow joined the cast and original Calendar Girls on stage for an impromptu rendition of Yorkshire with Firth turning his hand to piano.
Broadway producers are on their way to take a look; London will have its day too and the Leeds Grand would love to have the show back. In the meantime, make a date in your calendar for The Girls before it leaves for Salford. This is a hit as big as the famous Calendar Girls buns.

The York Press - Charles Hutchinson

 

 

More...

aTim Firth wrote the sceenplay for the - now famous - film, CALENDAR GIRLS starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters. The film went to number one in the UK, becoming one of the most successful British films of all time and one of the top fifty grossing films in UK cinema history.

and also the stage play...

 
 
a CALENDAR GIRLS broke box office records and became the fastest-selling tour in UK theatre history and with a glowing set of reviews from all over the country.

aScripts, CDs and DVDs of Tim Firth's work are available.