Calendar Girls the Musical, Blackpool Opera House
“I don't think there's anything on this planet that more trumpets life than the sunflower…Wherever light is, no matter how weak, these flowers will find it. And that's such an admirable thing. And such a lesson in life." This sums up the very essence of Calendar Girls the Musical.

It deals with the everyday trials and tribulations of family life and getting older, from the politics of social groups and parenting teenagers to the unthinkable - the tragic, harsh reality of death and grief. But it is also a celebration of friendship and humour, and it always brings the focus back to the bright side of life. Much like the camera focused on the courageous WI ladies of Yorkshire when they posed naked for a charity calendar! Their goal was to raise money to buy a settee for their local hospital’s relatives' room in memory of one of their husbands – but they ended up with enough money to pay for a whole new wing. Which just goes to show what you can achieve when you look for the light.

Calendar Girls, based on the famous true story, started life as a movie before being adapted for the stage. Its third incarnation as a musical has been hailed the best adaptation yet – and you’d expect nothing less from the dream team of scriptwriter Tim Firth and songwriter Gary Barlow. The close collaboration of the supertalented childhood friends has resulted in a moving production, filled with beautifully timed music matched with highly observant lyrics that are both relatable and inspirational, raising this uplifting tale even higher.

Then there’s the Calendar Girls themselves. Their vocals are powerful in their delivery and in the sentiment behind the words, with stunning solos and lovely harmonies. They're playing "ordinary" women but they demonstrate there's nothing average about either them or the ladies who's story they tell. The show features some of our very best actresses, and whilst the cast members change during tours, based on the reviews, my own experience – and the standing ovation in Blackpool - every single one is a superb choice.

At the Opera House the audience said an especially delighted Hi-de-Hi! to Ruth Madoc in the role of retired teacher Jessie, underlining her well-earned status as a sitcom legend. Having been most familiar with Lisa Maxwell as tough cop Samantha Nixon in The Bill, her comic prowess as Celia, the buxom ex-air hostess with extra baggage allowance, i.e. she’s “had work done”, was particularly impressive. Sue Devaney added lots of oomph as single mum Cora, leaving just as lasting an impression as her recent short but sweet stint in Corrie. These three actresses were the icing on a cake made with the perfect ingredients, since each of the ladies excelled in bringing their individual character traits to life. In just two hours you felt like you knew them. The men and teenage children were equally well cast, stirring level-headed advice, rites of passage and a pinch of role reversal into the mix.

The Yorkshire country set with its bright skies and fluffy clouds is deftly transformed into a WI hall, then a hospital. Colourful props wheeled on and off include a maypole, a wheelbarrow packed with flowers and a trolley full of delicious-looking cakes. The opening scene showing the cast going about their daily business in ordinary clothes is comforting, yet brings the truth of the story close to home. It could be the village down the road, and you could be longing for the diversion of a routine trip to Tesco after a hospital visit, like Annie and her terminally ill husband (played with touching warmth and realism by Sarah Jane Buckley and Phil Corbitt). It’s these scenes and the accompanying songs that make you realise how special those everyday moments are, most poignantly when they’re gone.

Which takes us back to the plot, and the suggestion by Annie’s plucky friend Chris (portrayed with comic aplomb by Rebecca Storm) that they all strip off for a calendar. As expected, her proposal is initially met with disbelief, but once the seed of this seemingly outrageous idea has been planted it begins to take root, and Annie remembers something her late husband, the much-loved John "Clarkey” Clarke, said. That “the flowers of Yorkshire are like the women of Yorkshire. Every stage of their growth has its own beauty, but the last phase is always the most glorious.”

And glorious is the perfect word to describe this show and its hilarious final scene, where each lady dares to bare all, month by month, for a series of unlikely WI activity-inspired photographs. Glorious with a strategically-placed cherry on top.

If you’re able to catch it in Blackpool this weekend there are two more performances at the Opera House on Saturday 19th October, 2.30pm and 7.30pm.

Book tickets at https://www.wintergardensblackpool.co.uk/whats-on/calendar-girls-the-musical

Further tour dates here: https://www.calendargirlsthemusical.com/tour/