Thursday April 13, 2017 @ Phoenix Theatre, London
Starring: Jenny Gayner (u/s), Claire Moore, Claire Machin, Sophie Louise-Dann, Debbie Chazen, Michelle Dotrice
Well, what can I say? I have no words…but I’ll try anyway. I cannot explain how beautiful, hilarious and perfect this musical is. Last week was my second time seeing the show and I loved it even more than the first.
The story, if you don’t know is of course based on the true story of Annie, whose husband is diagnosed with cancer. Annie and her friends then set about creating a calendar to raise money to replace the sofa in the hospital – a simple attempt that expands beyond anything they could have hoped – and much like the musical itself, it exceeds everyone’s wildest expectations. I must admit before I first saw it, it didn’t appeal to me greatly, but how wrong I was.
From the Opening to the Finale, you are either laughing or welling up with emotion. Gary Barlow’s score is a total winner, there is not one bad note or something that doesn’t feel right. The score at times has a Sondheim or London Road-esque feel to it, in the way it seamlessly blends with spoken word, and one of Annie’s songs ‘Scarborough’ in which she laments about how her life would be without her husband is heart-breaking. I know once the cast recording comes out I will have it on repeat, because it is simply perfect.
The six leading ladies – the ‘Calendar Girls’ – are incredible and perfectly cast. On Thursday night, Jenny Gayner covered Annie and gave a beautiful, strong-willed performance. Claire Moore is also phenomenal as Chris, bringing natural charm, hopefulness and stellar vocals. The stand-outs for me, perhaps because I’ve seen their work before, are Sophie-Louise Dann and Claire Machin. Much like her solo song ‘Ideal World’ (seriously, listen to that!) in the underrated Made in Dagenham, Dann brings the house down as the adrenaline-induced Celia – love her solo song ‘So I’ve Had a Little Work Done’; Dann again excels in grace, comedic chops and stage presence to boot. Machin, who I loved from Memphis, doesn’t need to do much to have me rolling over laughing either in her brilliant role as Cora. I love that every ‘Girl’ has their moment to shine, including Debbie Chazen and Michelle Dotrice, equally bringing class and warth as Ruth and Jessie, respectively – it’s no wonder these women (along with lead Annie, Joanna Riding) were Olivier Award-nominated for these roles (They should’ve won!). There is also a star turn from debut-making Ben Hunter, who was also Olivier-nominated as Danny – he’s fantastic.
I equally love and hate (for my heart’s sake) when the emotional moments hit, and when they hit you, they hit you. The show does that so well, it’s executed in such a way that no relationship ever seems forced on-stage and no emotional situation looses impact; and it’s so British! Which is why it works. Set in Yorkshire, everything is relatable, there’s mention of Tesco too!
The momentum throughout never drops, especially in the accumulative scene in which the Girls do the naked calendar. It’s so funny and great to see everyone having so much fun up on the stage. And Thursday night I was front row, so maybe saw I bit more than I bargained for during this scene particularly!
So overall, you need to see this bloody show! Everyone needs to see it. We don’t have enough of these types of shows running in the West End at the moment, a British one!! One written by British writers and presented in modern British times, it’s rare and that’s a shame. But we have this, so go see it, support it, and donate to Bloodwise while you’re there! I have not experienced a show quite as special as this is sometimes, and I will defy anyone who believes this to be nothing less than THE British musical of our time!
If you enjoyed this review even a little, check out my own blog at www.stageytheatrelife.wordpress.com/ Cheers!
The Girls is currently booking until July 15, 2017.