Calendar Girls the Musical, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, until January 19
Calendar Girls the play was huge-impact event theatre when it premiered in Chichester just over ten years ago.
And then it toured and toured and toured, with diminishing returns for those of us whose job it became to see it rather too regularly.
Calendar Girls The Musical, however, takes us right back to the excitement of that opening night at Chichester Festival Theatre in 2008. This is the tale beautifully retold, completely invigorated and – obviously – spiced up with songs of the very highest quality, just as you’d expect from Gary Barlow in collaboration with original writer Tim Firth.
The fear was that this was going to be the play plus songs. And fortunately that’s absolutely not the case. Of course, it is the same story, the same essence, just as it has to be; but it has been reimagined with a different arc (the photo shoot comes much later) and almost with different characters, certainly different dynamics between them, plus a whole new layer of the next generation to add to the fun.
The songs, just as they need to in the very best musicals, emanate from the characters, never intruding, always enhancing, and throughout there is a hugely appealing wit which sits perfectly alongside the poignancy of it all.
Fern Britton, Anna-Jane Casey, Sara Crowe, Karen Dunbar, Ruth Madoc, Rebecca Storm and Denise Welch as the key players are individually and collectively terrific, each beautifully delineated but each very much part of the overall tapestry.
This is a joyous, uplifting hymn to human strength, quirkiness and eccentricity. And it works superbly in a new format which has given it pulsating new life.