The pairing of childhood friends Tim Firth and Gary Barlow to make Calendar Girls into a musical has resulted in a smash hit, award-winning show, which many have declared the best adaptation yet.
Their close collaboration has given even greater wings to this funny and moving true story of a group of Yorkshire WI ladies who posed naked for a calendar to raise funds for their local hospital – becoming global superstars in the process.
Based on Tim Firth’s original screenplay for the 2003 film and his subsequent West End stage version, the uplifting performance opened at the Grand Theatre Leeds in 2015, moving to The Lowry, Salford, in 2016, before making its debut on the West End as The Girls. Now selling out after more than a year on the road, the UK tour of this life-affirming comedy musical is due to stop off at Blackpool Opera House, 15th-19th October.
Growing up in the same Cheshire village, Gary and Tim have been buddies since childhood. While Gary has written and co-written 14 number one singles, selling over 50 million records worldwide and notching up no less than six Ivor Novello Awards, Tim has won the Olivier Award and UK Theatre Award for Best New Musical and also the British Comedy Awards Best Comedy Film for Calendar Girls.
Here the dream team behind Calendar Girls the Musical provide an insight into the story’s longevity and its huge success as a musical.
Did Tim ever dream that the story would have such staying power when he sat down to write the film two decades ago?
"I wrote the first scene on the morning of 9/11, so I can always place the date I began. I went down to London to write. I put the telly on at about quarter to one, and then of course I never turned it off again. But by then I had written the first scene of the film.
"Like all things that you don’t plan it had its own plan. What was hidden in the story of this calendar was something far greater; its most core constituent is the combatting of grief through comedy and that never goes away. That is why it has had the longevity that it has. The story applies to many more counties than Yorkshire and many more people than just the WI. It has a far wider canvas than just those coping with an illness. It is universal and that is the whole point of it; the pain of loss being defeated with wit."
Having already seen his mate’s film and stage play versions of Calendar Girls, by the time Gary came on board to compose the score for the musical he had already subconsciously started the soundtrack in his head.
"I heard it straight away. We started working, Tim would give me a couple of pages of lyrics and then I’d come back with mini albums of songs. He would then, very cleverly, take a verse from one song and put it with the chorus of another. I’d get them back as structures and then maybe write new pieces. He gave me the freedom to be me."
Gary still marvels at the courage of the original pin-up girls of the title and is delighted at the quality of the casts put together by producers David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers.
"The bravery of these women in the face of adversity is at the heart of it all. That’s the charm and it’s what people relate to.
“Having seen the production with at least two different casts I observe that one thing that never changes is the audience reaction at the curtain call, which always includes thunderous applause and is rarely anything but a standing affair.”
The calendar itself comprised a genius set of photographs of ladies of the WI doing very traditional WI activities such as jam making, knitting and playing the piano. How might Tim pose for such a calendar?
“I’d have to hide behind a laptop. Apart from writing and music the only other things I do regularly are running and badminton. Neither lends itself to nudity.”
Tim credits his friend with accelerating and developing the story of Calendar Girls, paying tribute to Gary’s talents a songwriter, and describing working with him as “effortless”.
“We have the same work ethic and we’re from the same stock. The songs are seamless; they lift you up like a magic carpet.”
Calendar Girls The Musical has been declared “A beaut” by The Telegraph, “pure gold” by The Times, and “A gloriously fun celebration” that’s “riotously brilliant” by the Daily Mirror; meanwhile The Daily Mail promises “You’ll cry with laughter”.
Book this unmissable show here.
Find out about the Calendar Girls The Musical official album here.