The true story of the Calendar Girls of the Rylstone Women’s Institute has traveled from print to stage to screen.
Best of all is his latest musical comedy conversion of composer Gary Barlow and writer and lyricist Tim Firth, two sons from a Wirral village who met as teenagers before Take That and Neville’s Island shaped respectively their career path.
Premiering at Leeds Grand Theater in December 2015 as The Girls, the show returns to Yorkshire from tomorrow (Friday) for its York premiere, now restored to the Calendar Girls moniker which leaves no room for confusion.
Calendar Girls: The Musical will be staged by York Stage under the direction of company founder, producer and artistic director Nik Briggs. “Honestly, I can’t remember when we applied, but it must be over, we got the performing rights, I think,” he says.
“It’s a hugely popular show, so companies across the country have scheduled productions. It’s such a great story based on real life, so it’s a joy to explore and work on.”
This story, if you’ve been hiding behind sunflowers all these years, revolves around the death of a much-loved husband prompting members of a women’s institute in the Yorkshire Dales village ‘to do things a little differently’ , stripping decoratively for their annual fundraising calendar, blissfully unaware that their bold behavior would spark such an impact locally, nationally, or even internationally.
“The ‘Calendar Girls’ story has always inspired me,” says Nik. “Being the only boy on my mother’s side of the family, I grew up surrounded by strong women and have always enjoyed being in the rehearsal room with actresses, creating work that celebrates them and puts their stories first. plan.”
For Calendar Girls, he does this with a cast led by Jo Theaker (as Annie); Julieann Smith (Chris); Rosy Rowley (Cora); Tracey Rea (Celia), Sandy Nicholson (Jessie) and Juliet Waters (Ruth), alongside Mick Liversidge (John) and Andy Stone (Rod).
Nik did not make it to the premiere of Leeds Grand. “I actually missed it in Leeds and the West End so I’ve never seen it before,” he says. “I was particularly disappointed to miss it as the original cast included York Stage’s Josh Benson, but work and travel commitments kept getting in the way when it was! That’s the only bad thing about working in the theatre; you miss a lot of shows!”
Nonetheless, Nik’s work on the York stage since 2014 has given many York debuts to West End and Broadway hits, and he’s delighted to add Calendar Girls to that list. “Gary Barlow and Tim Firth have created a stunning score,” he says.
“It’s filled with pop ballads as you’d expect, but they’ve also created catchy Yorkshire anthems and jazzy big band show pieces. Their ability to tell a story through song is truly magnificent. They keep the simple things and allow emotion and action to speak volumes.
“They made a show with storytelling at its heart: there’s no big choreography or special effects, just an extraordinary story about a group of ordinary women that go from heartwarming to heartbreaking in an instant.”
Calendar Girls is a perfect fit for the music format, says Nik. “It’s a famous phrase, in musical theatre, ‘when it’s not enough to say it, you sing it’! The loss of a loved one creates some of the greatest emotions in a person, so it’s a ideal story to tell through musical theatre.
“The story is timeless too. Loss, grief and what huge life experiences like these can do to a person never changes, so audiences of all generations can relate to it.”
Nik, who is joined on the production team by musical director Jess Douglas, also designed the set. “It’s really evocative of Yorkshire and allows the production to move quickly and with pace, as intended,” he says.
Obligatory sunflowers will be ubiquitous, but does Nik like this overdone flower? “Yeah. Who’s to say they don’t smile when they see one?! There must be almost 500 in this production, so it’s good that I love them,” he says.
“The marketing color scheme and the sunflowers’ connection to history now unwittingly evoke strong emotions, with the terrible conflict we see in Ukraine, as both the colors and the flower are national symbols of the country.”
Staging a Yorkshire story on its own soil certainly has an impact on its storytelling, Nik posits. “Having Yorkshire actors playing these roles in a theater in York creates a real gravitas for the story. It could work anywhere, but it’s just a bit more special here because it’s a real Yorkshire tale “, he says.
“As a native of Geordie, who has now lived ‘down south’ here in Yorkshire for almost half my life, I am always blown away by the beauty of the area. Whether I am in the Yorkshire countryside with the green hills and dry stone walls, in the middle of a picturesque village with whispering streams and chocolate houses, or in the beautiful towns and villages with impressive and intricate architecture, I can only be amazed by the charm that surrounds me.”
Next for York Stage will be their York Theater Royal debut in Little Shop Of Horrors from July 14-23, followed by Kinky Boots at the Grand Opera House from September 16-24.
“We will end the year with our annual youth show at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre,” says Nik. “This year it will be Lin Manuel Miranda’s Bring It On, so it will be very popular with the teenagers who all love Encanto and Hamilton!”
York Stage in Calendar Girls: The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, April 22-30. Ticket office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.
By Charles Hutchinson