Cast bare all as Calendar Girls comes to Wolverhampton Grand - review
As is often the case in life, with sadness comes laughter.
And there is no better example of this than Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s hit tear-jerker, Calendar Girls the Musical, which brought the house down at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre last night at the start of a short, but promising run.
It is hard to believe that it was back in 1998 when a group of WI ladies from Yorkshire took the world by storm when they came up with the idea of producing a nude, but tasteful, calendar to raise money for a new sofa in the visitors room at Knapton General Hospital in memory of one of their husbands, but it really was 21 years ago.
Not only did the ladies raise the £500 required for the sofa, but have gone to raise more than £5 million in aid of cancer research.
That said, there has been extensive news coverage on the Calendar Girls, followed by a film, a play and now a musical version.
Honestly, I was beginning to feel as if this could be a step too far, given that surely by now every drop of sentiment must have been rung out of their tale.
But, as predicted, Barlow and Firth have done it again, producing a superbly uplifting, heart-warming piece of theatre guaranteed to entertain on every level.
Yes, of course there are tears of sadness, but they are completely outweighed by tears of laughter as Tim Firth’s script, set to the music of the Take That front man, is side-splittingly funny, while taking the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions.
His ability to see the contrasts of life and death from such a positive angle is quite exceptional.
Meanwhile the songs are unpretentious and memorable. There is never going to be a number one hit single from the score, but then that is not the object of the exercise.
Rather, the songs paint the picture and tell the story without overshadowing the importance of the plot, reminding us just how fragile and short life can be, yet still raising the roof when required.
All of this, of course, needs an exceptional cast to bring it to life, and there is no disappointment here either with a bevy of TV drama and soap stars to choose from.
Hollyoaks’ Sarah Jane Buckley, perfectly cast as Annie, a woman reeling from the shock of the death of John her husband, offered an emotional, but extremely natural performance which would no doubt resonate with anyone in a similar position.
Rebecca Storm, the Yorkshire 'Tart with a Heart' Chris, was funny, feisty and fiercely defensive of her best friend’s plight, not to mention in extremely fine voice.
Dinnerladies star, Sue Devaney as single mother Cora, displayed outstanding comedic skills, timing and had such stage presence it really was hard to watch anyone else when she was in a scene.
Tyler Dobbs as Tommo and Danny Howker as Danny are certainly young comedy talents to watch, making the perfect pair of naughty, adolescent schoolboys, up to no good and raising both eyebrows and laughter at every entrance.
Matt Ryan’s direction is the perfect combination of musical theatre and drama and Jos Houben’s comedy staging is dexterous and skilful.
Similarly, Robert Jones’ scenery, costumes and simple use of props work effectively alongside a vibrant lighting plot courtesy of Oliver Fenwick.
The musicians rarely get a mention in reviews, but Nick Pinchbeck and his band certainly deserve the highest accolade for delivering Barlow’s score expertly and retaining the inevitable, yet subtle version of the Take That sound.
Calendar Girls the Musical offers a rare insight into the realities that everyday people face, the human ability to find comedy therein and that good can come from bad.
In short, this show is a thought-provoking reality check on life, whilst still retaining the entertainment factor.
Remember to wear your sunflower with pride.
Visit www.grandtheatre.co.uk or call 01902 29212 for tickets. Runs until Saturday.