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

End of the Rainbow ~ Malvern Theatres

At Malvern Theatres until Saturday 9th April, then touring until Saturday 25th June.

*** Please note that the final tour venue was set to be Cheltenham and this is no longer going ahead **

The story of Judy Garland is well documented and the tragedy of her glory days spiralling downwards at the mercy of pills and alcohol is no secret. This production (by Peter Quilter) covers the period of time leading to Judy’s death at the age of 47 years old and shows her at her worst.

About to embark upon a six week residency at Talk of the Town, London, the diva has a new beau in tow, fiancé Mickey Deans who is also her manager. Deans, played by Sam Attwater, is keen for the come-back to succeed as Garland has mounting debts, so horrendous are these debts that they are constantly dodging payment of their hotel bill this hotel is their home for the duration of their stay in London to re-launch her career.  Her loyal accompanist, Anthony Chapman, played by the incomparable Gary Wilmot, is on hand to accompany her. It seems that he would prefer to support her off-stage rather than engage in the bullish behaviour demonstrated  by Deans when it becomes clear that Garland is in no fit state to be continuing with life in the spotlight.

Although this is essentially a three hander, which works well, Lisa Maxwell who plays the fallen star could easily play this as a one woman show. Her likeness to Garland is incredible, in mannerisms, speaking voice and vocals. The various numbers that we were treated to throughout the show were enough to prove that Maxwell’s capabilities are limitless and when she sang my personal favourite, The Man Who Got Away, I was moved to tears. Every nuance of Garland’s character is portrayed to amazing effect by Maxwell, she brings out the aggression, frustration and confusion, yet still injects the natural quick-witted, comedic qualities possessed by the much loved star.

The set was inspiring, it lent itself to the piece and transitions were smooth. It transported me back to the time period and there were times when it truly felt as though I had a window into a snapshot of Garland’s life.

End of the Rainbow will stay at Malvern Theatres until Saturday 9th April and the tour will continue until Saturday 25th June. For more information and to book tickets please visit: http://www.endoftherainbowtour.co.uk/

 

Photo courtesy of Pamela Reith.

 

 

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