(Photo: John Swannell).
Extraordinary tales about ordinary people make the very best stories and Calendar Girls The Musical is no exception.
Showing at Hanley’s Regent Theatre this week, the show shines a light on the ubiquitous story of a group of WI members who bravely bared all for a fundraising calendar in memory of John Baker, who died of cancer.
A film inspired by those events was a huge global hit, but those expecting a rehash of the film should expect to be surprised. Calendar Girls The Musical brings yet another dimension to this hugely engaging story.
Holding a magnifying glass to the ordinary lives of a group of villagers, the re-written script and accompanying songs from Tim Frith and Gary Barlow, balances emotional intensity with humour, empathy and positivity.
The musical celebrates all that is great in humanity, the traits and attributes that define friendships and frustrate families. The understated songs deliberately crafted around the script never attempt to hog the spotlight but underpin the story, helping to weave emotion into the delivery, bringing the story to life.
The quality, of course, is exceptional.
Surprisingly catchy opening number Yorkshire sums up what lies at the heart of this compelling story, It’s just another year in Yorkshire. And it is. We meet the women of Knapely WI, who although inspired by real members of Rylstone WI are fictionalised, and we get to know their stories — the single mother, the former Miss Yorkshire with a teenage son, the aging retired teacher, the superior chairwomen and the happily married soon-to-be devastated couple.
These are people we all know, stories we can all relate to, cast into the spotlight examining the minute beauty in relationships, the daily battles we all fight.
Of course the main event is the decision to create the calendar but every inch of this musical entertains and engages with those stories of real life and the songs that delve into the characters’ psyches to ultimately reflect their personal battle in agreeing to strip off for the photo shoot.
Anna-Jane Casey, Sara Crowe, Rebecca Storm, Denise Welch, Fern Britton, Ruth Madoc and Karen Dunbar excel in their roles as the calendar girls. With Sara Crowe’s polarising portrayal a stand out highlight, as is Ruth Madoc’s reflection on her advancing years in the song What Age Expects.
Surprisingly humorous, the second-half in particular has plenty of comedy moments as the story gathers pace.
Genuinely funny, inspiring and upbeat, Calendar Girls The Musical succeeds in bringing a fresh take, packed with emotion, to this well-told tale.
Calendar Girls The Musical runs at Hanley’s Regent Theatre, until Saturday (17 November 2018).