1) It’s based on a true story.
Not only is it true, but it’s also incredibly moving. In 1999, against the tragedy of her husband’s death, Angela Baker (or Annie as she is known in the film and stage adaptation) and her friends from the Women’s Institute, decided to raise money for their local hospital by posing nude for a calendar. Initially only aiming to raise enough to buy a sofa for the hospital relative’s lounge, they actually ended up raising over £3 million for the charity Leukemia & Lymphoma Research. It is a message to us all that even in the darkest of situations, it is possible to find that glimmer of hope and inspire people in ways that we never imagined.
2) Gary Barlow is a pretty great songwriter.
It’s hardly a surprise to any of us anymore that Gary Barlow is very, very good at writing songs. I would argue that in this case, he has surpassed himself. The music so perfectly captures the heart of the story and the spirit of loss, friendship and bravery. I dare anyone to listen to Annie’s song Scarborough and not shed a tear. Loss and heartache is a universally shared emotion and that is what makes the music so poignant and relatable.
3) Sunflowers. Sunflowers everywhere.
We all know that West End sets can be pretty fancy these days, but this one really steps it up to the next level. I don’t know how else to describe it other than to say that it’s absolutely beautiful and it’s so versatile in that it works perfectly for every scene. Most importantly, it couldn’t be more successful in capturing Yorkshire. Watching the show, it’s very difficult indeed to comprehend that you could still be in central London. Beyond the stage, the entirety of The Phoenix Theatre has been completely transformed. This is the 4th show that I’ve seen at The Phoenix, yet it’s the first time that it’s really felt home to a show. Outside and inside, true to the story of the Calendar Girls, there are sunflowers everywhere. From the second you spot the theatre as you approach it from down the street, you are drawn into their beautiful, vibrant world.
4) Every single character is perfectly cast.
The Girls was my 20th West End musical. I’ve seen it twice, have two more visits booked and plan to be back many more times. This is very much down to the fact that I have never before been to a show that is so perfectly cast. Claire Moore and Joanna Riding as Chris and Annie give extremely emotional performances, whilst never failing to capture the warmth and importance of friendship. They each display incredibly strong vocals and their harmonies in particular, are something to behold. Claire Machin and Sophie-Louise Dann as Cora and Celia are undeniably the comedic heart of the show. There’s clearly a rapport between the two actresses that makes them so utterly joyous to watch together. I had to restrain myself from squealing with glee every time that they walked on stage! Debbie Chazen as Ruth takes the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions. She holds the capability of making you feel a deep level of empathy with little more than a passing look. Beyond that, she is also a comedic genius. Without giving anything away I know that for many people Ruth’s drunken scene in particular, is one of their favourite moments. Finally, Michele Dotrice as Jessie stands apart from the other girls in that there’s a lot of significance placed on her age. She in fact performs a song about aging and it is the one moment in the show that I know I will never be able to watch without crying. It’s truly difficult to think of any other song within musical theatre that I’ve seen performed with such honesty and conviction. All of the women in the show are extremely talented, offering an array of beautifully performed scenes. It is a joy to watch each and every one of them.
5) It is the ultimate story of female strength and empowerment.
If this year has proved anything it’s that there’s still a great deal to be done in the fight for equality for many people, women being just some of them. That, primarily, is why I think that the show is so special. I have never sat in a room and felt so empowered as a woman. From the story itself, to the often largely female audience, to the clear camaraderie between the women in the cast, nothing else on the West End offers such a strong message of girl power. Please believe me when I say it would be a great mistake not to make the effort to go and see this show. It would be truly heartbreaking for the West End and women everywhere, to lose it.