Calendar Girls The Musical, Chichester Festival Theatre, until November 23
With its seemingly endless touring and amdram proliferation, there was starting to seem something just a touch over-familiar about Calendar Girls the play.
But in its much newer incarnation as a musical – Gary Barlow teaming up with playwright Tim Firth – it gets a huge amount of the oomph back that made the play’s very first night such an electrifying night… at Chichester Festival Theatre more than ten years ago.
In fact, Calendar Girls The Musical leaves you with the definite feeling that a musical is what it was crying out to be all along.
By including the bemused husbands and some variously love-struck teenagers, the musical doesn’t quite have the tight focus of the play, but what it gains is a much greater sense of community – which is precisely what it ought to be about, not just the ladies who did something so extraordinary, but also their impact on those around them.
Plus there is something very appealing about the wit which runs through the lyrics in the songs we have gained.
In truth, two or three of the musical numbers could comfortably be lost, but at their best, the songs are catchy and full of the trademark warmth which makes Calendars Girl, both play and musical, not just immensely likeable but also genuinely inspiring.
Sarah Jane Buckley gives a beautiful performance as Annie, the WI member who loses her husband to cancer. Rebecca Storm is terrific as Chris, the rebel who gets them all to take their kit off for the fund-raising calendar which became news around the world.
But as with the play, the musical remains very much an ensemble piece, Sue Devaney, Julia Hills, Judy Holt, Ruth Madoc and Lisa Maxwell all essential to the adventure.
By going completely back to the drawing board and, importantly, shifting the photo-shoot scene, Calendar Girls The Musical has completely reinvigorated the whole concept.
How lovely now that it has come full circle back to Chichester.
It continues to walk the finest of lines, with sentimentality an ever-present threat. But it walks the line with great sureness for an evening of compassion and togetherness… or should that be in-the-altogetherness?