There can’t be many people who haven’t seen or heard of the 2003 British comedy film Calendar Girls, but Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s musical version of this hit Bill Kenwright production brings so much energy to the stage that it thoroughly deserved last night’s standing ovation at Milton Keynes Theatre.
While the production is based on a true story, we start at the local branch meeting of the Women’s Institute where the usual traditions of cake baking, jam making and flower arranging – and Jerusalem singing! – come under the watchful eye of straight-laced leader Marie (Paula Tappenden).
But it’s the untimely death of John Clarke (Colin R Campbell), the popular husband of Annie (Tanya Franks) from leukaemia, that has a profound affect on this Yorkshire village.
However it’s the rebellious Chris (Amy Robins) who comes up with the idea of producing a nude calendar in a bid to raise enough cash to purchase a comfortable new couch for the local hospital in John’s memory.
Naturally emotions are tested as sorrow turns to laughter, the audience warming to each character as their feelings about being photographed naked are revealed.
While the first act is a little slow, the audience warms to each character and we learn that organ-playing Cora (Honeysuckle Weeks) has a problem. teenage daughter.
Meanwhile glamorous former air hostess Celia (Marti Webb) belts out So I’ve Had A Little Work Done… she’s is also the first to be photographed by Chris’s florist husband Ron (Graham MacDuff) when it’s a case of ‘More Iced Buns Please!’.
I loved the pure comedy as Maureen Nolan as ‘baking supremo’ Ruth sings to a vodka bottle in My Russian Friend and I while Tanya Franks as the emotional Annie gave a
Alan Wooding reviews Calendar Girls the Musical
standout performance which tugged at the heartstrings.
The part of Jessie was taken by understudy Jayne Ashley on the opening night, standing in for one time member of the New Seekers, Lyn Paul and doing a brilliant job as the ex-school teacher who is passionate about the Women’s Institute.
But centre of attention throughout was Amy Robbins as Chris who led the catchy Dare and Mrs Rebelious numbers while the often repeated song ‘Yorkshire’ could easily become the anthem for Britain’s largest county!
It was hilarious watching the girls being
tastefully photographed one by one with all manner of props hiding their dignity... and
that included plenty of glorious sunflowers, which were to the fore in the finale.
Full marks to Gary Barlow and Tim Firth whose clever toe-tapping songs fitted the storyline perfectly while the whole cast were absolutely superb, each proving that they can belt out a song.
Also impressive was the five-piece orchestra under the direction of Jordan Alexander. Consisting of just two keyboards, a guitar, bass and drums, sadly they sometimes tended to drown out some of the lyrics.
Calendar Girls the Musical runs for 2 hours 20 minutes and plays Milton Keynes Theatre until this Saturday with tickets from £21.50 by calling 0844 871 7615 or online at ATGTICKETS.COM/MiltonKeynes