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

Spotlight On… Star of The Girls, Claire Machin

The Girls is running at The Phoenix Theatre and I highly recommend that you book your tickets to see it: The Girls Musical

*** Please note that The Girls is no longer performed on a Monday night and there is an extra Tuesday matinee instead ***

Claire Machin is an actress who has been on my little radar for quite some time, she’s a versatile performer with an incredible singing voice and I think that her latest role as Cora in The Girls suits her down to the ground. It’s an absolute pleasure to introduce the lady herself who I was very privileged to steal some precious time with in between shows.

Claire with fellow ‘Girls’ Michele Dotrice and Sophie-Louise Dann

Thank you so much for talking to me, Claire, tell me about The Girls and your character…

The Girls is about love, loss, friendship and it takes place in Yorkshire. It’s about a group of friends and one of them, Annie, loses her husband to Leukemia. It’s based on a real life story, Angela Baker lost her husband, John Baker to Cancer and to get her out of the house. Her friends encouraged her to join them in raising money for a new sofa – and actually it wasn’t really about the sofa and it was just about getting her back into the community. So that’s what happens in our story as well, so it’s about how that friendship inspires and how each of the six ladies overcome their fears to do this naked calendar, because they’ve decided that they’re going to do a naked calendar to raise funds for this sofa. It’s about every woman’s journey to get to that point, to agree to do it.

I play Cora who’s a choir mistress, she’s a single mum, quite harassed, stressed and I love Cora. Most characters that I play I really love. I feel like Cora fits like a glove so anything could happen on stage. I feel really confident and safe because I feel like I really know her. Her story is to get away from the shy, retiring, inhibited person. Although you get an outburst of inner self in act one which she then withdraws – but because she is with the girls and she really loves them, she says “oh for god’s sake I’ll do it”.

You were part of the original cast when the show was tried out in Leeds and Salford…

Yes, to see if actually it did work and it worked beautifully. The producers were quite confident that it would work in the west end. I think when we started rehearsals in November 2016, something like 26% of the show had changed, I’m not sure what the percentage is now but it’s considerably more. We’re talking minor tweaks and twiddles, moving the end of Act One for example – making Act One shorter and Act Two longer.

If you could play any of the other characters who would you go for?

I love Cora so much, I don’t know – I’m a character actress, maybe Chris. I’d really like to have a crack at Annie. Actually, when I was at drama college the Head of Year and Head of the Course would argue about whether I was a straight actress or a character actress.

My favourite song in The Girls is Dare, what’s yours?

I think it has to be Kilimanjaro. Although Dare’s gorgeous because you dream to dare and dare to dare and we get a lot of feedback that Dare has helped a lot of people. Even if your dare and you don’t win as long as you have a go you’ve won haven’t you? It’s a powerful message.

I’m from Halesowen in the West Midlands and you’re from not too far away, Stoke-On-Trent, aren’t you?

I am from Stoke, yes, I left Stoke in 1987 so I have lived in London longer than I’ve lived there, but my dad and sister still live there so I go back.

Were you heavily involved in Theatre in Stoke before you moved to London?

Yes, there are fantastic amateur dramatics groups in Stoke. My claim to fame is I did The King and I with Robbie Williams, we did it for Newcastle Amateur Operatic Society when we were kids. He was about ten and I was twelve or thirteen.

Finally, what would you say to encourage people to come and see The Girls?

You can’t miss it, you absolutely can’t miss it, it’s extraordinary and it surpasses people’s expectations. People are genuinely moved and at the same time they’re moved to laughter too – and that’s life, the writing’s very beautiful but there’s nothing poetic about it, it’s just what people say. The words of the songs are based on what ordinary people say when they’re dealing with friendship, love and loss. It’s a story about family, a community, things that we can all relate to and I think that’s why it’s been so well received. It’s beautifully told too and the cast are tremendous – hats off to all of them for telling that story so well, eight shows a week.

My thanks again to Claire for a lovely interview and don’t forget you can book tickets to see The Girls on a Tuesday matinee, now – so why not enjoy a Tuesday afternoon at the theatre watching this amazing show. My review is here: The Girls Review



The Girls ~ The Phoenix Theatre

The Girls is running at The Phoenix Theatre, London and booking until July 2017 at the moment, click the link to book tickets: The Girls

Star rating: *****

The Olivier Award nominated musical comedy version of The Girls by Tim Firth and Gary Barlow has been much anticipated this year and I’ve scarcely been able to contain my excitement about finally going to see it. Attending on a Saturday matinee a fair number of performances into the run meant that a few main cast members were having a well-earned break and there were understudies being given the opportunity to shine. This did not matter at all and personally, I feel privileged to have been able to have seen a different configuration.

Claire Moore and Joanna Riding as Chris and Annie

Calendar Girls is well-known, if you’ve not seen the play version, you may have seen the movie or you might have just heard the story of the WI women who created a nude calendar to raise money for a sofa where Angela Baker’s late husband, John was treated for blood cancer. To date they have raised millions of pounds for Bloodwise, over-reaching their target in phenomenal style.

The set framed the action beautifully with the Yorkshire hills a prominent feature and the kitchen cupboards of all of the neighbourhood piled on top of the other. A simple roll on of a flower and ribbon-loaded cart changed the scene to Chris’s florists. Festive costumes and the florists’ van decked in Christmas décor was enough to suggest that it was Christmas Carol time even though the set was relatively unchanged. Likewise with that hotly anticipated (anticipated by Mari at least, played by Marian McLoughlin) WI conference – a few subtle changes shifted the action.

The musical numbers all tell their own story and each of the six main characters has at least one song and a moment to showcase their individual capabilities. Dare has been my all-time favourite since first hearing excerpts from the show, the lyrics mean something to every character “spread your wings and trust the air”, and the cast perform it with emotive power and verve. Yorkshire is an ideal opening number as it introduces the characters and sets the tone, simultaneously. Scarbourough is a heart-wrenching number, it reinforces the seriousness of the running theme.

Playing Annie (the incarnation of Angela written for the play/film) was understudy, Jenny Gayner. Had I not have known that Joanna Riding had been taking the role, I would not have known I was watching an understudy in action. She made the role her own and had terrific chemistry with Chris, played by Claire Moore. The juvenile element in their life-long friendship is highlighted in this piece and works well. True love is evident between Annie and John (James Gaddas) and forms the life-blood of the piece, I was so invested in their relationship that it felt like a body-blow when John inevitably passed away.

Michele Dotrice, Sophie-Louise Dann and Claire Machin

Debbie Chazen was extraordinarily excellent as Ruth, the downtrodden doctor’s receptionist who dotes on her husband Eddie, the husband we never see because he is playing away, and all of her friends know he is. I’ve only seen Chazen on screen before, so I was delighted with her stage presence and comic timing. Claire Machin plays Cora, the choir mistress trying to set a good example to her teenage son, Tommo (Josh Benson). She is a performer de force, rocking her big number at the carol concert and with the ability to bring a character to life from the inside out. Josh Benson was well matched as Cora’s son, not only in looks but there’s a believable bond there, too. I was already familiar with Sophie-Louise Dann’s as a performer and in Celia she has created a character who is bubbly on the surface and a fish out of water in reality. In fact The WI is where Celia feels that she fits, and I like the transition that Dann is able to walk the audience through step by step. Her big number is one of the highlights of the show. Michele Dotrice is an actress I have never seen on stage, before, wow am I inspired to see her on stage again. What an incredible comedienne she is and she can sing, too! An integral member of the cast indeed, nobody could have played Jesssie better than her, in my humble opinion.  A mention must also go to Ben Hunter who plays Chris’s son, Daniel – he’s one to watch, a rising star if ever I saw one. Also, kudos to Victoria Blackburn who understudied the role of Mari’s daughter, Jenny – I was totally oblivious to the fact that I was watching the understudy.

The myriad of emotions that The Girls has the ability to evoke is quite something, tears, laughter – it’s like a proverbial yo-yo. This is the first time in a very long time that I wish I had more than five stars to give. Miss this at your peril, it’s a magnificent masterpiece that I intend on paying several return visits to see. Plus, fair play to all of the actresses who whipped off their kit and posed for the calendar, no mean feat!

What’s On Stage Awards 2017 ~ Highlights

What’s On Stage Awards hosted its Winners Concert on Sunday 19 February 2017 at Prince of Wales Theatre and it was a star studded occasion glittered with many worthy winners and a few surprises along the way. Here are some of the highlights:

Sweeping the board with their Nimbus Broomsticks ~ Harry Potter and the Cursed Child bagged a number of awards that Aragog would be proud of, eight! Best Actor in a Play for James Parker, Best Set Design and Best New Play amongst the trophies that left the building with the cast and crew of the popular, fast-selling production.

Charlie Stemp as Arthur Kipps in Half A Sixpence

Half A Sixpence Bags More Than Half A Penny ~ Emma Williams snagged the award for Best Supporting Actress In A Musical, and rightly so, she’s a force to be reckoned with in any production. Charlie Stemp who plays the lead role took home Best Actor In A Musical, which is an amazing accolade and well-deserved too. Best Choreography also went to this musical revival, although I’ve yet to see it, I’ve seen enough to know that this was the right winner.

A Dream Come True for The Dream Girl ~ Amber Riley has won rave reviews for her portrayal of Effie White in Dream Girls and the reviews have reflected the votes, as the girl did good and picked up Best Actress In A Musical. Worth coming over to the UK for, Amber?

Dream Girl Amber Riley Bags Best Actress In A Musical (Credit: Star Magazine)

The Girls Dared… And Won! ~ The Girls have had a smasher of a week, and it started with the win on Sunday when they picked up Best Regional Production. The hype around this musical has been palpable and I am so pumped to see it that I might burst. This was by far my favourite win of the evening. It slightly made up for the fact that I was sad to hear that Michele Dotrice had pulled out, albeit temporarily (she’s back now!). Gary Barlow has a bumper hit on his hands. Sunflowers ahoy!

With One Look ~ What’s On Stage are renowned for putting on a great #stagey show #dear and topping off the evening with Ria Jones giving her Norma from Sunset Boulevard was the icing on the cake. I’m not so sure about with one look, but I do know that with one note from Ms Jones I have goose bumps. Her stepping in as understudy to Glenn Close was a highlight of 2016 for me and it was therefore right and proper that she had such a prime role in the What’s On Stage Awards concert. Bravo!

For full list of winners visit:

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