Review: 5***** Calendar Girls: The Musical. The Marlowe, Canterbury @marlowetheatre @GaryBarlow @thegirlsmusical

“I’m not crying you are”

I had one or two concerns entering the theatre on this September night. No, not a single one about what I knew to be a fabulous musical (having seen it once before) but more that I had been bigging it up to the rest of the press crew for months and I was worried that either I had gone overboard and it wasn’t as sad as I remember, or that I had spoilt it in advance, that perhaps by saying how much I had sobbed and how amazing it is, no one would cry, and at the interval I would be ribbed one way or another. Front-LtoR-Tim-Firth-Gary-Barlow-Back-LtoR-Rebecca-Storm-Fern-Britton-Sara-Crowe-Denise-Welch-Ruth-Madoc-Lorraine-Bruce-Anna-Jane-Casey-credit-John-SwanellDespite these concerns, I did some further warnings to those I knew to be of a more sensitive nature, telling them that they would need a tissue or 20. Big, strong men that they are, they brushed off my comments. Sure enough within 3 songs I was in (uncontrollable) tears and those big strong men – no names mentioned, they know who they are – were wiping away more than a handful of tears by the time the interval came around

And so now, dear reader, I am telling you too – Calendar Girls the musical is a show not to be missed but one which you will need an entire box of tissues to get you through. Heed my warning!

So, why is it is so fabulous and what is it about? Based on the 2003 film of the same name, Calendar Girls tells the heartwarming and heart-wrenching story of a group of WI members who, when tragedy strikes one of their oldest friends, find a way to raise money for a good cause – by creating a nude calendar.  But shock horror, these are women of a certain age, replacing the usual calendars of views of local churches with views of their current buns, and this is the WI.  Over the course of the story, not only do the women overcome their worries about doing the calendar, battling a number of personal demons along the way, they overcome the traditional somewhat prudish nature of the WI too to create one of the most sold calenders ever to be created in memory of their beloved friend

Aside from a great story, the cast, set and music are also great. I have not one single bad word to say about it. Gary Barlow and Tim Firth have worked closely together in the writing and composing of the music and it is obvious to see.

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Rebecca Storm (Chris), Fern Britton (Marie), Denise Welch (Celia) and Ruth Madoc (Jessie) outside The Marlowe theatre Canterbury

The music is stunning, catchy, emotional and each and every song is perfect for that moment in the show. They’re funny, heartbreaking and poignant, and there is something for everyone. Everything is also gloriously British, with references that will make anyone who grew up in a small town or village smile while reminiscing about summer fetes and county fairs.

I, perhaps unfairly, often worry when I see a poster filled with recognisable faces that they may not deliver the goods and are just there to bring in an audience but absolutely none of these concerns came to fruition. The cast is impeccable, there is no other word for it.  Denise Welch was absolutely brilliant as Celia, the ex air hostess concerned about impressing the golf girls, Sara Crowe played the unhappily married Ruth perfectly, Karen Dunbar was extremely funny as the vicar’s daughter, Cora, while Ruth Madoc as Jessie’s rendition of What Age Expects brought yet another tear to my eye. While they all brought emotion to the show, their comic timing was also perfect and the camaraderie and hilarity they brought to the climax of the show – their revealing photoshoot – was brilliant. It is impossible, however, to separate between Anna-Jane Casey as Annie or Rebecca Storm as Chris for the star of the show. Storm’s voice is stunning while her comic timing, and chemistry with Annie are perfect, while Casey’s ability to bring such raw emotion followed by hilarity is a joy to watch.

It would also be unfair to not mention the supporting cast – in particular Phil Corbitt as John who played this role with perfect humour and emotion, and the younger members of the cast Tyler Dobbs, Danny Howker and Isabel Caswell who played Tommo, Jenny and Lawrence fitted in perfectly with the more mature cast members. The relationships and chemistry between all of the cast members can only make me think they are indeed genuinely friends.

So, as I listen to the album with a lump in my throat while writing this, all I can say is It could’ve been cheesy, it could’ve tried too hard to be funny, it could’ve missed every emotional mark it was trying to hit, and yet it did none of these things. This musical is perfect and while “the flowers of Yorkshire are like the women of Yorkshire, every stage of their growth has its own beauty, but the last phase is always the most glorious, then very quickly they all go to seed.” this show isn’t going to seed anytime soon.

Playing at the Marlowe Canterbury until 15th September and then on tour until April 2019

For tickets go to: https://marlowetheatre.com/shows/calendar-girls-the-musical/

For tour details go to: http://www.calendargirlsthemusical.com/tour/

Writers: Gary Barlow and Tim Firth

Diretor: Matt Ryan

Set: Robert Jones

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