REVIEW: THE CALENDAR GIRLS (Original Cast Recording) ★★★★★
Formerly titled ‘The Girls‘, Gary Barlow and Tim Firth‘s new musical, based on the 2003 film The Calendar Girls, opened in London’s West End in January 2017 where it ran for six months.The show is now getting ready to embark on a UK Tour, beginning in August 2018 in Leeds before continuing around the country.
Based on the true story of a group of Yorkshire women who decided to create a nude calendar to raise money for Leukaemia (originally to buy a new sofa for the hospital) which went on to raise millions of pounds for the charity. The opening track on the album Yorkshire introduces the characters in the show and how they have known each other for forty years (but only their last names have changed). It is a great Musical Theatre song that builds with each chorus into the ultimate choral climax.
Things start to get sad with the song Scarborough (performed by Joanna Riding) when Annie discovers her husband John has been diagnosed with Cancer. She reflects on the way she felt when she first met him all those years ago and how she now feels the same awkwardness of not knowing what to say to him. She has never really contemplated the idea of him dying until now. Who will get the towels off of the shelf she can’t reach or take care of the spider in the bath? Because she can’t. She needs him. This song really continues a few tracks later in Very Slightly Almost, where the couple receive an update on the treatment. With each verse the news gets worse and worse but Annie refuses to give up the fight for her husbands life. This is another great Musical Theatre number and show’s that Gary Barlow really has a knack for this kind of writing.
The musical covers ageing and growing up in a big way. Spring Fete isn’t just about cakes, it is a wonderful moment of the older and younger generations reflecting on each other and Protect Me Less shows the parents trying to stop their children from growing up too quickly (whereas the youngsters see it as their parents jobs to ‘fuck them up’).
The show similarly talks about the older generation, how sometimes you have to ‘rise with inflation’ and have a little work done (So I’ve Had A Little Work Done sung by Sophie-Louise Dann). Also in What Ages Expects (sung my Michele Dotrice), we see the even older generation explaining that you shouldn’t “make the great mistake, believing the numbers on your cake” and how you should “fight to climb the stairs, don’t use the life ‘because’ it’s there” and also a wonderful phrase “don’t act the colour of your hair, act the colour of your heart”.
Dare is another lovely Musical Theatre song that builds as the song progresses. “There’s a road you will only ever find to take if you dare”, where the women decide to ‘dare’ the make the nude calendar. The Girls is from the mens point of view, when they realise their wives are going to be photographed nude and they wonder when they last saw them so bare was. How later on in marriage you don’t really parade around naked in front of each other (“like in the film Jaws, you never see all of the Shark”).
When it looks like the calendar might not be able to go ahead, Annie sings to her late husband about the fork in the road she has come across. She realises that there is nothing harder in life than being without him (“there’s no Mount Kilimanjaro you can show me that compares to climbing solo up a flight of stairs”) and feels a renewed sense of empowerment.
There is a great mixture of songs on the album, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Claire Machin once again steals this show with her rendition of Who Want’s A Silent Night, turning a simple christmas carol service into a raunchy number, releasing her inhibitions and creating a liberating moment of female empowerment that I imagine many women wish they could have. Debbie Chazen has a lovely song My Russian Friend and I where she looks in to the bottom of a bottle of Vodka for the courage to turn up to the photo shoot and For One Night Only, the song where the photo shoot takes place, has some comedic one liners such as “we’re going to need considerably bigger buns” and “I shall be a bit insulted if they are looking at my fingers”.
The albums’s finale, Sunflowers of Yorkshire, cleverly brings the entire show together with reminders of the key songs in the show and showing the journey that these women have been on.
You really couldn’t ask for a better Musical Theatre album, so pick your copy up today! Oh, and there are a few lovely bonus tracks of Gary Barlow himself singing some of the songs too!
Reviewed by West End Wilma