★★★☆☆ | Calendar Girls The Musical

When Annie’s husband John dies from leukaemia at an early age, her close friend Chris, suggests that they raise funds though their Women’s Institute group to purchase a comfortable sofa for the visitor’s lounge in the hospital where John was treated. But Chris’ plans are to forego the usual Jam and Jerusalem traditions of the organisation and to get the girls to agree to pose for a nude calendar with only WI pastimes to hide their modesty.

Based on the well-known true story, Tim Firth’s script vacillates between tickling the funny bone and tugging on the heart strings as it works its way to a laughter inducing denouement and a touching closing scene; but never at the expense of (if you’ll pardon the pun) fleshing out the main characters and the supporting cast. Gary Barlow’s accompanying music is pleasant and carries forward the narrative with a mix of the catchy and the bittersweet, with Anna Jane Casey’s heart-breaking rendition of Kilimanjaro, a song about the struggle to carry on after the loss of a loved one, a real highlight.

But the show is rightly all about the girls, and Casey is just superb playing the bereaved Annie, bouncing nicely off Rebecca Storm as her best friend Chris. Thrown into the mix, amongst others, are Denise Welch (TV’s Loose Women), Fern Britton (This Morning) and Karen Dunbar, who all come together to give you a group of ladies who form a formidable ensemble cast.

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Based on the true story, Calendar Girls follows in the footsteps of the film and original stage play in celebrating the remarkable achievement of the group of women. Whilst is it a little twee at times, it carries a strong story about friendship, challenging expectations and taking a risk, as conventions and traditions are dropped as quickly as the girls’ clothes.

Calendar Girls The Musical is at the Sheffield Lyceum until 13.04.19 before continuing on its national tour.