Sunflowers are blooming at the Grand Opera House Belfast this month, as the Calendar Girls are in town and the cast has brought the sunshine to the city!
Calendar Girls, The Musical is a new take on the well-known Calendar Girls’ story; a story of hope, friendship, bravery and love which began 20 years ago. This new musical by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth captures the essence of the original (and pretty sensational) news story but with a modern, musical feel. As well as beautiful, bright staging and costumes, the new production has risqué poses and big musical numbers, it is the perfect feel-good production for a night out - and I really enjoyed it.
If I’m honest though, it took me a little while to get into this production with the pace of first act being a teeny bit slow for me. I guess the producers were busy scene-setting, character building and establishing the quintessential Englishness of the large cast of characters (including Lisa Maxwell, Sue Devaney, Julia Hills and Rebecca Storm) which goes on to be shattered in the second act with their nudity.
The story tells the tale of Annie (Sarah Jane Buckley) and her husband John (Phil Corbitt) who live and work in a closely-knit community in Yorkshire, but who unfortunately face tragedy when John is diagnosed with cancer and, [SPOILER ALERT!], subsequently passes away. What happens after is the stuff of legend. Or of many newspaper articles and now a show, anyway!
In the second act the story definitely moves up a notch in terms of pace, as the girls decide to throw caution (and all that stiff-upper-lip Englishness) to the wind to produce a fundraising calendar – a nude one – à la Pirelli – and it is here that the real humour of the show begins. The Grand Opera House audience lapped up every moment of the antics, with the cast seeming to grow in confidence at their reaction (although I imagine they get the same reaction everywhere they go, such is the warmth of the story). The talented and very brave actors shine, even Lesley Joseph (best known for her role as Doreen in Birds of a feather), who isn’t he strongest singer but delivers her solo numbers with gusto, singing from the heart and engaging many menopausal and post-menopausal women in the audience as she sings about the perils of growing old.
As the show climaxes with the fantastically choreographed finale (which has to be seen to believed), you are left with a broad smile on your face, (although I did shed a tear or two, truth be told) and feeling pride for the performers and for the original Calendar Girls who are still raising money for the Bloodwise charity to this day. And if that fact doesn’t uplift you, the emboldened and empowered flashes of fifty-something flesh certainly will!
Calendar Girls runs until Saturday 25 May tickets available at goh.co.uk.