Reviewed on 15th April 2017
The Girls, based on the hit film Calendar Girls is the next great British musical taking over the reigns from Billy Elliot with music by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth The Girls runs at the Phoenix Theatre. An enchanting production with it’s key to success being the beating heart of the production.
The beating heart of the production is in it’s ability to understand family, understanding a mother, understanding a father, a child, a husband or a wife and how they interact with each other in a real way which gives The Girls a real shine to be admired. This choice gives the production a deep understanding in being aware that real lives exist in this story and seeing the amount of care and attention going into delivering these characters in a respectful and real way is very rewarding to watch and comes across clearly.
The story which many audience members will be aware of going in will recognize famous scenes and lines that have remained in the musical. There are however differences in the way Tim Firth directs the story, the finale for example ends with the shooting of the calendar and the aftermath it causes. The time building up to this moment is spent with the girls and their individual struggles to commit to the calendar.
This decision is good for the production as a whole, by taking time to explore each of the girls’ family and feelings you are allowed to understand the relationships each of the girls have in a meaningful way. This means as the musical plays out and these relationships are tried and tested the investment of allowing the audience to understand all these relationships really pays off and is rewarding to see. Relationships are important to this musical and there are no characters that are badly represented and all shine which given the large number of characters is very impressive but there are some relationships that shine brighter than others.
The relationship between Annie and John is very heart warming to see especially in the song Scarborough which is very beautifully styled and moving exploring Annie’s worries for her husband as she feels something is wrong. The production goes further with John by showing his relationship with the girls and their interactions before he passes away. This is a really charming touch to see the production make and James Gaddas’ performance is very well delivered and caring which allows the audience in the time they have with him to appreciate his charm and see the wonderful man he was. Annie and Chris’ relationship equally is very rewarding to see for the best friends of forty years through the twists and turns they take to support each other and will the calendar into existence. The production equally conjures up new relationships that are very rewarding to see with the three teenagers of the production; Tommo, Jenny and Danny. This trio of teenagers deliver charming, believable and funny performances that are a highlight of the show to see. Possibly the most important relationship in the production is the girls’ relationship and interactions with each other and from the very first moment of seeing them together the chemistry is set clearly being charming, caring and funny which is great to see in a dynamic the musical needed to get right which is nailed straight out of the gate.
Comedy features a lot inside this musical from well thought out liners yet this comedy spreads into the music equally in entertaining ways. From songs such as So I’ve Had A Little Work Done, My Russian Friend And I and Who Wants A Silent Night? This last song stands out as a wonderful moment in the production which Claire Machin playing Cora smashes for a home run not only in this song yet throughout the whole production and is a joy to watch. The music however is where cracks can show in Barlow and Firth’s work which revolves around the subject of pop music.
The curse of pop music as a whole is that the music is either a hit or it’s not and there is no room for a middle ground due to the criteria that is used to judge pop music. A lot of Gary Barlow’s ideas in music work really well as you would expect from a man who has sold over fifty million records yet there are songs that don’t grab you in the way that others do. From the verse to the chorus there is a feeling of something not being there. Yorkshire, the first song in the musical by it’s end is wonderful yet to arrive at this point there is a lot of uncertainty and nervousness in the voices which nerves can play a part in yet the instrumentation do no favors to help this which is surprising and disappointing to see and feel right at the beginning.
Overall The Girls is not perfect as a musical yet the imperfections should not detract audiences from this wonderfully crafted production. A musical filled with a wonderful combination of equally beautiful and funny moments that fill you up on laughter and remind you that real lives have a unique style of beauty. The finale of the production with the song For One Night Only echoes with the words of John Clarke as the girls celebrate the success of their calendar in a wonderful show stopping moment.
‘The flowers of Yorkshire are like the women of Yorkshire. Every stage of growth has it’s own beauty, but the last phase is always the most glorious.’