In his review this morning, Michael Billington has – to borrow a phrase from Meat Loaf – taken the words right out of mouth. At last night’s West End premiere of The Girls, I was telling anyone within listening distance that, after already remarkable success as a film and a stage play (both also written by Tim Firth), this heartwarming story had at last, after 18 years, found its ideal form as a musical.
My listenership for this pronouncement included several of the original Calendar Girls from the Yorkshire Women’s Institute – including the wonderful Angela Baker, whose late husband John Baker, inspired the daring fundraising idea – who were sat in the row just in front of me, all dressed in elegant black cocktail dresses topped their sunflower lapel pins. How many times have they watched their lives be played out onstage and screen? They’d lost count, but this week alone had already attended performances of the musical.
Quite right that they, along with Angela and John’s two, now-grown children, took to the stage for the first night curtain call, along with the show’s producers David Pugh and Daffyd Rogers, and co-writers Tim Firth and Gary Barlow, who led the assembled company in another round of the song “Dare” from the show, as he’d done the evening before for the charity gala evening.
Every performance of The Girls raises more money for the women’s chosen cancer research charity, Bloodwise. To date, they’ve raised nearly £5 million for the cause – a breathtaking achievement which started out, as the story goes, an aim to simply buy a new sofa for a hospital waiting room.
David Pugh announced last night that, based on initial demand already, The Girls will be extending its booking period through to July. And, based on audience reactions and the critical consensus below, I predict that there will be more extensions and much more money raised for Bloodwise.