The Girls at Phoenix Theatre, dubbed by Neil Norman (Express) “the musical of the play of the movie of the calendar,” received predominantly positive pro reviews, including three fives and a four-star majority.
Mark Shenton (The Stage) thought it “celebrates as well as commemorates” a “spectacular example of quiet English heroism”. He found it “stays faithful to its sense of time and place, but also deepens and amplifies the sense of intimate connection to the audience” and observed “authenticity” arising from the involvement of original Calendar Girls dramatist Tim Firth. Paul Taylor (Independent) found it “fresh and joyous… contributing something new to a familiar tale”. Michael Billington (Guardian) judged it “delightful… far superior” to both play and movie, suggesting “the story has now achieved its ideal form” with the “the collective disrobing” now “less of a lark than a means of overcoming issues such as grief, age or physical self-consciousness”. He thought “it destroys the traditional demarcation between composer and lyricist” giving it a “rare… seamless quality”. Shenton agreed Firth and Gary Barlow “mutually enrich one another”.
Norman saw ”each character… sketched out through custom-made songs” which he thought “lyrically brilliant and musically adroit” and Shenton found “instantly catchy and moving”. Taylor found the lyrics’ “wry observational wit… ideally suited to tracing the permeable boundary in the show between quirky humour and heartbreak” and detected a “distinctively British sound” in “the lovely melodies” of a “beguiling score”.
Taylor reported a “cracking female ensemble” and Shenton found “extraordinary” this “spectacular line-up… holding the stage so compellingly yet utterly sympathetically”. Shenton admired Joanna Riding’s “hauntingly beautiful and radiantly lovely performance”. Billington praised “a moving portrayal of marital loss” and Taylor thought her “superb” admiring “unforced poignancy” when “she sings with a piercing, down-to-earth poetry about the painful practical chores that face the bereaved”. Shenton thought her “gloriously partnered” by Claire Moore’s Chris’s “effervescent practicality” and Taylor found Moore “gloriously gutsy”. Norman saw Michelle Dotrice deliver an “anti-ageist song… with kick-ass energy” and Taylor found her “a delight”. He also thought Danny “adorably played” by Ben Hunter while Billington acknowledged “good work” from Debbie Chazen, Claire Machin and Sophie-Louise Dann. Norman acknowledged Firth’s “tight direction” which Billington found “keeps them well this side of caricature”.
Norman praised a “hilarious peek-a-boo climax” and Taylor found it “well-timed… inspiring and poignant” suggesting: “If you think that ‘wiping away tears of laughter and sorrow’… only happens in reviews… give this show a visit”. Billington agreed it “works beautifully” hailing “a show whose feelgood conclusion is genuinely earned”. Shenton admired “a story that feels honest, raw and powerful” with a “pay-off” that “fills the heart and theatre with sheer joy” predicting “the biggest British musical hit since Billy Elliot”.
Currently booking to 15 Jul 2017 with tickets available from ATG and more dates to be released at the end of March.