Last night I had the opportunity to watch Gary Barlow and Colin Firth’s musical adaptation of Calendar girls at the Milton Keynes theatre. I have reviewed many shows at this excellent theatre in Bedfordshire, but tonight the sound had a shaky start and sometimes words were being missed from the start of the actors lines. This made it difficult to follow and therefore took a while to relax into the performance
As we are aware unless you have lived under a rock for some time, Calendar girls the musical was based on the highly successful comedy film of the same name back in 2003. Like the film, the musical follows the exploits of some members of the local Woman’s Institute in Yorkshire, which was such a great opening song!
Following the death of one of their members husbands to leukaemia, the women decide to raise money by coming up with a Naked calendar. Shock. Horror. A what? They want to raise enough money to buy a sofa in his honour for the relatives’ room in the hospital that cared for him.
Just like the film this production took most of act one to lay down the story, but this gave us a chance to get to know the cast members. Cora (Honeysuckle Weeks) with her organ playing skills and trouble some daughter. Celia (Marti Webb) a former air hostess, does an effortless rendition of “So I’ve had a little work done”.
Tanya Franks who played Annie did a fantastic performance, especially in the touching scenes with her cancer suffering husband.
The Other WI members included Ruth (Maureen Nolan), Jessie played on this occasion by understudy Jane Ashley. All actors complimented each other and were very convincing.
Chris (Amy Robbins) a former Miss Yorkshire who often comes up with zany ideas, suggested they did a calendar and although most were unsure, they could take their clothes off, some grabbing for a bottle to give them the courage and others suggesting alternatives that were less revealing. Her voice suited such powerful show numbers as Dare and sunflowers. Her comedic timing was perfect.
Chris’s husband Ron (Graham McDuff) becomes the reluctant (Yeah right) photographer. I have to say that the naked scenes were tastefully executed with props that ranged from iced buns, flowers, to knitting needles with balls of wool which kept the actor’s dignity intact. The comedy timing of Ruth (Maureen Nolan) was just perfect as she sang to a bottle of Vodka and addressed it as her Russian Friend.
It has to be said that some of the singing did get lost and I struggled to get some of the words. The five- piece orchestra under the direction of Jordan Alexander consisted of two keyboards, a guitar, a bass and drum kick. But their enthusiasm tended on occasions to drowned out some of the songs and made it difficult to hear the lyrics. But fans who know the songs would have no issues.
And so the finale ends with a stage full of sunflowers and a happy audience leave having spent two hours of being entertained by the ladies of the Yorkshire WI and long may it continue.
The show is also raising money, so if you fancy going to spend 2 hours and 20 minutes of great songs from the pen of Gary Barlow and Colin Firth, then Calendar Girls is for you.
4 Stars out of 5
Reviewer Stephanie Jayne