A new musical based on Calendar Girls by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth (writer and co-director of Calender Girls, the movie), I was honoured that my friend, renowned actress Harriet Thorpe, a lead in the production, invited me along, with my folks.
A world première, Leeds was a flurry of excitement as Gary Barlow fans lined the streets and photographers waited in anticipation for the star attendees to arrive.
More so, being a Yorkshire story based on true events, there was an apparent sense of pride in the air, for Northerners by Northerners.
Meeting Harriet’s son, acclaimed ballet dancer and director Jack Thorpe-Baker at the Stage Door, we headed straight to the stalls together basking in the electric atmosphere of the theatre and of course, press night.
My favourite night/s to attend productions are either opening or closing, as the anticipation and energy in the theatre is the most intense of the run. That highly charged emotion of opening night in particular makes the experience even more magical…
And what a show was in store, for us too-
An uplifting, moving, laugh out loud hilariously funny production, the contrast of light with the dark, tonally, was pitch perfect here-the loss of Annie’s husband James (his passing was a feast to behold, as sunflowers, the metaphor of the play) filled the stage, mesmerising us, as he glided upwards, across the roof tops and far away.
The line that sunflowers always move towards the light touched me too, a wise reminder to gravitate towards the light, and good, for us all.
Other poignant words of wisdom came in another inspiring line I recalled, ‘to learn hope before fear’.
These platitudes were woven effortlessly into an economically written, punchy and simply dazzling narrative.
And the soundtrack, penned by the 52 million selling artist and writer Gary Barlow never overwhelmed the story, but punctuated it, highlighting the emotion throughout.
I actually cried twice before the interval curtains arose, and again in the second part. Don’t forget your tissues, people!
…The chemistry between the ensemble cast exquisitely bound the piece together.
A story of friendship overcoming adversity, a coming-of age story to some extent for women of a certain age that is not only captivating but also universal.
Watching the ‘Girls’ coming together, to reveal themselves for a calendar-a vehicle to allow them to raise money for a new sofa in the cancer ward but also to help them rediscover themselves, was quite frankly some of the most empowering theatre I’ve seen in a long time.
Claire Moore who plays Chris and Joanna Riding as Annie demonstrated female solidarity perfectly, and with such an ease, their performances were flawless and so believable, you merely felt but a voyeur in their ‘lives’.
Comic timing from Claire Machin as Cora and the brilliant Debbie Chazen as Ruth had the audience roaring with laughter.
Harriet Thorpe, my friend, is the most perfect of villains, she commands the stage, and was the fiery antagonist to the girls, hell-bent on protecting the WI’s name and stopping their naked pursuits.
Harriet is best known for her role as Carole in the BBC’s The Brittas Empire and Fleur in Ab Fab, with an illustrious career as a TV and film actress, her West End credits are endless and it was a privilege to watch her shine again, as she always does, in ‘The Girls’.
A blurry picture of us back stage after the show (it was pretty low lit in there) but lovely to get some time together so I could congratulate her.
…Reminiscent of my all-time favourite musical of Blood Brothers, another Northern classic, this musical will undoubtedly go worldwide as the success of the play it is based on, and film have.
What an incredible evening, with the treat of watching the great Gary Barlow perform on stage at the end to a standing ovation for the production.
Wonderful too, that all bar one of the original Calendar girls were at the opening night too. It was so special to be watching the musical, with them in attendance.
The Girls is on in Leeds until December 12th at the Grand before going on a UK tour.
Book your tickets, you won’t be disappointed!
Don’t miss my video too where you can watch highlights from the night and of course Gary singing on stage at the end!