Reviewer: Fraser MacDonald
Fresh from its run at The Phoenix Theatre in London’s West End, Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s newly christened Calendar Girls The Musical (formerly The Girls) delivers its cast recording ahead of a UK-wide tour. The sickly-sweet tale of Yorkshire women baring all to raise funds for Annie’s leukaemia-stricken husband is familiar to most from the 2003 film starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters. Though not a carbon copy of the screenplay, which was also written by Firth, the musical builds on the heart of the motion picture and offers an even more heartfelt experience for its audience with a delicate and considered musical composition.
It is impossible not to fall in love with this schmaltzy score. Barlow’s chart-topping pop influence is clear; infectious leitmotifs make each track familiar yet unique. There is an emotional substance to each musical number which allows the dry Yorkshire humour to shine through without cheapening the sentiment of the real-life story. It is delicate in dealing with hard subjects and not afraid to inject a healthy dose of comic relief when necessary. A handful of stand-out numbers ensure that this is an album which will endure the test of time, proving that Calendar Girls The Musical is a truly uplifting modern classic.
Employing its original London cast, Calendar Girls offers exuberant vocal performances with a star-studded ensemble including Michele Dotrice (Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em) and Jeremy Clyde (Chad and Jeremy). Claire Moore dominates in her portrayal of Chris and Joanna Riding’s Annie is as harrowing in quiet moments as jubilant in her upbeat numbers. The recording captures the power of the ensemble and the swelling orchestrations of its West End production well; both affirming features of the staged production. Particular highlights include Sunflower, a buoyant ditty that perfectly represents the inspiring production.
The difficulty for any musical recording is to strike the right balance by contextualising otherwise unconnected songs without offering unnecessary detail or dialogue. The recording serves more purpose to those who have seen the staged production. It provides just enough dialogue to jog the memory of past audiences to particular scenes and does not sound unnecessarily cluttered. Despite the hurdle of representing a show which is very visual in nature, the album still carries well of its own right.
This recording includes bonus tracks led by Barlow and backed by the ensemble. Although these have been in the public domain – and promotional materials for the musical – for some time, they are a welcome addition to the package. The bonus Yorkshire track shaves over 3 minutes from the London Cast track, which is perfect for those looking for uninterrupted music. Fans of Barlow will be
The message from Calendar Girls The Musical is powerful and timely. The whole score feels genuinely empowering and spiriting to even the most downhearted. Wherever there are girls the world can change, they say. Based on the standard of the cast recording, they’re doing a pretty good job of it, too.
Cast Recording Available from Decca (UMO) Classics