Touring – reviewed at Birmingham Hippodrome
The Girls, as it was titled when I first saw this uplifting show in the West End (twice) quickly became a firm favourite of mine. With a stellar cast, a beautiful and often funny score and a story that most are familiar with at the heart of the show. This is by no means a review, as I wasn’t on duty last night (the tickets were a birthday gift). However, I can’t miss the opportunity of filling you all in on my first experience of my favourite show on its tour.
At Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre last night I was moved to tears, laughing out loud and sobbing. The touring production has lost none of the magic created in the West End. There are noticeable tweaks, and I listen to the soundtrack in my car on an almost daily basis so I know the show well considering I’d only taken two trips to see it in in London.
The set is simpler, although I felt that left room for the lighting to take centre stage and that was fascinatingly atmospheric. Some of the scenes are played differently, the Knapely fete is not quite so elaborate, but the lyrics and performances from the cast more than make up for that. ‘Silent Night’ is one of my best loved songs and that particular number has been played down in comparison to the piece de resistance it was in the West End version.
The cast are mostly familiar to me as faces from the TV, Julia Hills plays Ruth and to me she has always been Rona in BBC One’s 2 Point 4 Children. I was gloriously taken aback by her stunning singing voice and she brought Ruth to life beautifully. Rebecca Storm who plays Chris, I remember seeing as the Mistress in Evita a fair few years ago, she was a force to be reckoned with, in fact you might say she stormed it! (pardon the pun!). The audience reacted enthusiastically to her rendition of Sunflower.
Sue Devaney is another favourite of mine, most memorable perhaps as the character who ordered the toast in Victoria Wood’s Dinnerladies. Cora is a fantastic fit for her, she brings her natural comedic talent and a touch of humility to the role, plus what a voice. The there’s Lisa Maxwell as Celia, slightly understated I feel yet she shines in the role. I already knew how wonderfully she can sing so ‘Had A Little Work Done’ was one of the highlights of the evening. Lesley Joseph, much loved as Dorian in Birds of a Feather, has stood in for Ruth Madoc as Jessie and she’s doing a fine job.
I’ve long been a fan of Sarah Jane Buckley, from her Kathy Barnes in Hollyoaks days through to seeing her both as Mrs Lyons and Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers. Once I knew of her vocal capabilities I immediately visualised her as Annie in Calendar Girls. She more than exceeded more expectations, the part fits her like a glove. I felt that she captured the essence of Julie Walters’ take on the role when she played Annie in the film version, combined with her own brilliant stamp. Every emotion was conveyed intricately which was no mean feat in a large auditorium and her rendition of Kilimanjaro blew me away. Plus the chemistry she has with Storm as Chris is key to the tale and works amazingly well.
I’m looking forward to officially reviewing the show later in the year, but in the meantime, I’m so glad to have had the chance to see Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s masterpiece in my home city. Book to see the show on tour, you won’t regret it: Calendar Girls The Musical