Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s 2015 musical ‘The Girls’, based on the 2003 film ‘The Calendar Girls’ made its west end debut in 2017 where it played for six months. A UK tour took place in 2018 and now it is slogging its way around the country once again, now called ‘The Calendar Girls Musical’.
It’s a very British story, revolving around a Women’s Institute and their plight to make a calendar to raise money for a bench in memory of one of their late husbands who died of cancer. But this isn’t your typical WI calendar of homemade jams and knitted blankets – it’s a nude calendar – and the subjects are the women!
I loved this show in the West End. Brimming with heart and joy from start to finish. Sadly, this new tour doesn’t hit the mark. It sounds empty, like there are only four people in the band. The big powerful songs on the London cast recording hit you in the heart but these feel stripped back and don’t have the powerhouse vocals the West End production did.
We go to the theatre for escapism and we identify with characters with whom we see ourselves in. But this production feels a little bit too real, a little too am dram. I understand stunt casting for touring productions. You need names and faces that people recognise but these people need to backing and support of a larger ensemble cast to help project the vocals.
Some of the songs still work well. ‘What Age Expects’ is a heart warming story of getting older but not letting the number on the cake define who you are, brilliantly performed by Lyn Paul. Kilimanjaro is a stunning song of losing a loved one and losing yourself in the process, performed well by Tanya Franks.
The teenage characters have been cut from this production which is a shame as there were some lovely moments in the original production that really made you understand the families instead of just the women and the song “Protect Me Less” was missed.
The Calendar Girls is a lovely story and the songs are wonderful. If you catch the show on tour you will love it. But compared to the original, knowing what it could be, made me feel sad. At least I have the original cast recording to listen to!
Reviewed by West End Wilma