Calendar Girls The Musical ~ Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Sunflowers were out in full force as Calendar Girls The Musical landed at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre last night and brought the full house to tears and to their feet with Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s stunning piece of musical theatre.

The show tells the true story of a Women’s Institute in Yorkshire who made waves with a nude calendar instead of their usual conventional offering. The idea is the brainchild of ‘Chris’ (played by Rebecca Storm) when she dares her fellow members to bare all behind a current bun to raise money for a new sofa for the relatives room at their local hospital. Chris’s Friend ‘Annie’ (Sarah Jane Buckley) loses her husband John (Phil Corbitt) to blood cancer and it’s her experience of the hard wooden chairs in the room she spends much of her time in that makes Chris so determined to be helpful. Albeit helpful in a way that shocks her fellow W.I. members and enrages the snooty Chairwoman, Mari (Judy Holt). It’s a rollercoaster journey for all the characters which ultimately sees an ordinary group of ladies face their fears and triumph. A more heartwarming and heartbreaking story you won’t find – I’ve never before experienced a musical that makes me cry so hard and laugh so uncontrollably in equal measure and in quick succession.

Rebecca Storm is a marvel in the role of Chris, the rule-breaking florist who’s trying so desperately to keep a handle on her teenage son whilst being a rock to her best friend and pushing her unconventional idea forward. Storm’s rendition of the musical number ‘Sunflower’ is show-stopping. Lisa Maxwell shines as Celia, the grounded air hostess who is struggling to fit in at her husband’s golf club. Her solo number ‘So I’ve Had A Little Work Done’ is one of the highlights of the show. Sue Devaney is perfect casting for Cora and her performance of ‘Silent Night’ is joyful, she’s such an engaging performer and a game girl too! Julia Hills is a revelation (in more ways than one!) as Ruth, she gives a very physical performance which enhances all of Ruth’s character traits. The scene in which she sings ‘My Russian Friend and I’ is both hilarious and sorrowful and her singing voice is powerful too. Pauline Daniels is playing the role of retired Headmistress, Jessie (Ruth Madoc is still out of action at the moment) and much as I am aware of Madoc’s talents, I admit I have fallen in love with Daniels’ portrayal of Jessie. She teases out every quality in the pinnacle role and her performance of ‘What Age Expects’ brought the house down. What an amazing vocalist she is.

Sarah Jane Buckley is playing the part I have no doubt she was born to play. She gives a measured, intelligent performance as Annie with a good dose of mischievous fun into the bargain and astonishing vocal ability to boot which lends itself to all of her musical numbers. ‘Scarborough’ gives the audience an insight into Annie and John’s lives and a snapshot of what life would be like without John. ‘Kilimanjaro’ raises the roof, Buckley puts all the pent up emotion into this beautifully crafted song. That moment will resonate with me for some time.

There are also superb performances from younger members of the cast, including; Isabel Caswell as Jenny, Tyler Dobbs as Tommo and Danny Howker as Danny. The entire ensemble are a strong, solid unit though and there is not one weak link nor a performer amongst them who didn’t attract my attention for all the right reasons.

From the opening scene to the magical moments when the calendar is being made – I was unwaveringly emotionally invested in the story and the people. It’s a production not to be missed!

Go and see my favourite musical for yourselves: Calendar Girls tickets

Calendar Girls The Musical ~ Birmingham Hippodrome

Last night I was lucky enough to go and see one of my favourite musicals, courtesy of a 40th birthday present from one of my besties from my baby group days. The Girls, as it was titled when I first saw this uplifting show in the West End (twice) quickly became a firm favourite of mine. With a stellar cast, a beautiful and often funny score and a story that most are familiar with at the heart of the show. This is by no means a review, as I wasn’t on duty last night, however I can’t miss the opportunity of filling you all in on my first experience of my favourite show on its tour.

If you’re not familiar with the story then check out the write-up via this link, as opposed to letting me bore you with it: Calendar Girls Musical Story So Far

At Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre last night I was moved to tears, laughing out loud and sobbing. The touring production has lost none of the magic created in the west end. There are noticeable tweaks, and I listen to the soundtrack in my care on an almost daily basis so I know the show well considering I’d only taken two trips to see it in the west end.

The set is simpler, although I felt that left room for the lighting to take centre stage and that was fascinatingly atmospheric. Some of the scenes are played differently, the Knapely fete is not quite so elaborate, however the lyrics and performances from the cast more than make up for that. Silent Night is one of my best loved songs and that particular number has been played down in comparison to the piece de resistance it was in the west end’s version.

The cast have mostly familiar to me as faces from the telly, Julia Hills plays Ruth and to me she has always been Rona in BBC One’s 2 Point 4 Children. I was gloriously taken aback by her stunning singing voice and she brought Ruth to life beautifully. Rebecca Storm who plays Chris, I remember seeing as the Mistress in Evita a fair few years ago, she was a force to be reckoned with, in fact you might say she stormed it! (pardon the pun!). The audience reacted enthusiastically to her rendition of Sunflower. Sue Devaney is another favourite of mine, most memorable perhaps as the character who ordered the toast in Victoria Wood’s Dinnerladies. Cora was a fantastic fit for her, she brought her natural comedic talent and a touch of humility to the role, plus what a voice. The there’s Lisa Maxwell as Celia, slightly understated I felt yet she shone in the role and I already knew how wonderfully she can sing so Had A Little Work Done was one of the highlights of the evening. Lesley Joseph, much loved as Dorian in Birds of a Feather, has stood in for Ruth Madoc as Jessie and she’s doing a fine job.

I’ve long been a fan of Sarah Jane Buckley, from her Kathy Barnes in Hollyoaks days through to seeing her both as Mrs Lyons and Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers. Once I knew of her vocal capabilities I immediately visualised her as Annie in Calendar Girls. She more than exceeded more expectations, the part fits her like a glove. I felt that she captured the essence of Julie Walters’ take on the role when she played Annie in the film version, combined with her own brilliant stamp. Every emotion was conveyed intricately which was no mean feat in a large auditorium and her rendition of Kilimanjaro blew me away. Plus the chemistry she has with Storm as Chris is key to the tale and works amazingly well.

I’m looking forward to officially reviewing the show later in the year, but in the meantime, I’m so glad to have had the chance to see Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s masterpiece in my home city. Book to see the show on tour, you won’t regret it: Calendar Girls The Musical

Calendar Girls The Musical ~ New Cast : New Enthusiasm

I’ve been reviewing musical theatre productions since 2012. My love of musical theatre dates back to my wee small years when my parents took me to see a number of popular shows at either Birmingham Hippodrome, Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham or Wolverhampton Grand Theatre. Great memories remain and the buzz I reveled in at the time and on our way home afterwards while I clutched my programme and finished off any sweets we might have had left is a feeling I cherish. Inevitably there comes a point where, as a regular theatre-goer, you’ll have seen the vast majority of productions in a variety of incarnations. I reached a stale-mate with musical theatre recently, where apart from Blood Brothers which remains a steady favourite, I’ve lacked the inspiration and will to get up and go to see musicals.

The inspirational block wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as it turned my head in the direction of the Opera and I’ve been lapping up as many opportunities as possible to go to see different Operas. However, there is another musical theatre production that I have a passion for aside from Blood Brothers. I saw this particular musical twice in the West End and had great fun interviewing one of the stars of the show too, Claire Machin, Calendar Girls the Musical from the combined force of Mr Gary Barlow of Take That fame and Tim Firth is the one I’m referring to and the soundtrack from the West End cast has a regular home in our car for sing-alongs, it’s addictive!

Sarah Jane Buckley will be missed when she leaves one of my favourite musicals, Blood Brothers!

One of the many reasons that I return to Blood Brothers time and time again is that Sarah Jane Buckley has been playing the role of Mrs Lyons and understudying Mrs Johnstone. She is incredibly believable as both characters, giving beautifully nuanced performances. She’s also one of a few performers I make a great effort to support, as she has been immensely supportive of my little blogging empire. I had fully intended to see Calendar Girls the Musical on its tour before this year, especially as Fern Britton was cast as Marie, the disapproving W.I. Leader. However, I have now got yet another reason to get out there and see it – there’s a brand new cast (although Rebecca Storm and Ruth Madoc (who was one of my childhood heroes) remain) and Sarah Jane Buckley is playing the role of Annie. It’s a part which I watched Joanna Riding and Jenny Gayner play at the Phoenix Theatre, London and which I had my eye on for Sarah Jane to play, funnily enough, I knew she’d fit it brilliantly.

I loved The Girls when it ran at the Phoenix Theatre in London’s West End

So, with midlands tour dates on their list and not only Sarah Jane Buckley on the cast list, which is a draw in itself for me obviously, but also Sue Devaney who I loved in ‘Dinnerladies’ and Julia Hills of 2 Point 4 Children fame joining the line up – I need to go and see the show again (and again!). My enthusiasm for the show has been renewed of course, but also my enthusiasm for musical theatre off the back of my palpable excitement. The buzz is back and I’m raring to see more musicals because I’m so enthused about the tour of Calendar Girls. Of course, when you’re a fan-girl, as I am, and your best-loved performer is taking on a new challenge, that in itself is always quite a moment. Sarah Jane will embrace the role of Annie and make it her own, that’s my totally biased view… I can already imagine her singing ‘Scarborough’. I can’t wait!!!

I can’t wait to see Calendar Girls the Musical again – ‘Sunflower’ is one of my best loved songs from the show

When it comes to any production, be it a musical, a play, a television series or even a film – we all have our favourites in the various roles and there’s no denying that the West End cast of ‘The Girls‘, as it was called then, were outstanding. From Sophie Louise Dann to Claire Machin to Michele Dotrice and indeed Joanna Riding – each and every one of the girls and boys in the cast put their heart and soul into the show. However, I hope that all the theatre fans out there who have a passion for the show as I do will give the new cast a chance. I think they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.

With the announcement finally out there today that there’s a new line-up in the offing to get behind those buns, I’m just so happy that my musical mojo is back! Bring on a year of musical theatre trips in 2019!

If you want to book tickets for the tour, you’ll see the current cast until the gang head to Southend. I’m sorry to have missed out on the chance of seeing Fern Britton, however from Southend onwards I predict a new magic in the air for this amazing piece of musical theatre.

calendargirlsthemusical.com

Photo Credit: John Swannell

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