“might not be a musical revolution, but it is a confident, fresh, and well-crafted show”
Adam Lenson is on a mission. Under his new production company, he’s determined to foster a whole generation of British musicals that challenge and revolutionise the form, and Stages is the first musical to be produced under that label. So, understandably, Lenson and writer/lyricist/composer Christian Czornyj must have quite a lot riding on its success – but does Stages set the bar for a new era of musicals?
The show chiefly follows teen technophile Aiden (Max Alexander-Taylor) as his life and family are thrown into disarray when his mum, Alice (Anna-Jane Casey), is diagnosed with cancer. Aiden, as well as his sister Ellie (Aitch Wylie) and father Owen (Andrew Langtree) all struggle to come to terms with the notion of losing Alice, and with the concept of not having control. This theme is taken a step further by ostensibly putting control in the audience’s hands – there are a number of moments where the audience are given the option between two different possibilities which are voted on with coloured cards. These choices range from trivial, such as what colour hoodie Aiden wears, to deeply impactful, such as whether Alice should receive treatment, and initially give the audience a sense of real agency in the story, although this is then unfortunately taken away by an unexpected plot development.
Stages goes in hard on its inspiration from video games – the music is comprised entirely of 8-bit chiptune sounds, and the back wall of the set (Libby Todd) is a video screen that generates pixellated portrayals of the setting or of relevant text. It’s a bold, creative, and characterful choice that pays off through intuitive but unobtrusive storytelling. The songs, too, contribute greatly to the thematic choices the show makes – the music will remind you of different levels of your favourite games growing up, from the tranquil tracks that’d usually involve some sort of mystical forest, to tense boss battle-esque music. Perhaps a few too many numbers favour the former style, but it’s such a unique timbre that you won’t tire of it. All the cast also deliver stellar vocals under the supervision of Tamara Saringer, with some particularly beautiful harmonies on display.
The individual performances are equally excellent, with Wylie standing out in creating an idiosyncratic and relatable older sister, and Alexander-Taylor bringing an engrossing physicality to Aiden. It feels as though the actors are sometimes wishing for a little more to chew on, as the script and lyrics stray into being a bit too simple and repetitive at times, but Lenson’s direction knows how to find the heart of every moment. Stages might not be a musical revolution, but it is a confident, fresh, and well-crafted show that delivers its narrative in a new and exciting way.
David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers, the producers of Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s musical comedy, CALENDAR GIRLS The Musical, based on the true story, the film and the award-winning play by Tim Firth, Calendar Girls, are delighted to announce that the production will return home to Yorkshire and open at the Leeds Grand Theatre on 16 August 2018 at the start of a new UK & Ireland Tour. The first 30 weeks are listed below, with further dates to be added.
The new tour will star novelist and television presenter Fern Britton, returning to the stage for the first time in 30 years, as Marie, Lorraine Bruce (Kay Mellor’s The Syndicate and theatre credits include Piafat The Donmar and Vernon God Little at the Young Vic) as Cora, Anna-Jane Casey (Billy Elliot on tour, Stepping Out in London’s West End, title role in Annie Get Your Gun at Sheffield Crucible) as Annie, Sara Crowe (West End roles include Bedroom Farce, The Real Inspector Hound & Black Comedy and Hay Fever) as Ruth, Ruth Madoc (Hi-De-Hi, Little Britain and Gypsy) as Jessie, Rebecca Storm (discovered by Willy Russell and cast as Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers, and her handprints are part of the Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre Walk of Fame) as Chris and Denise Welch (The Rise and Fall of Little Voice,Coronation Street and Waterloo Road) as Celia.
The critically acclaimed and award-winning production played a six-month London season at the Phoenix Theatre last year, and, before that, this musical comedy played sold-out seasons in Leeds and Manchester.
Tim Firth said,
“To be given a chance to revisit CALENDAR GIRLS The Musical is a unique opportunity. Gary [Barlow] and I have been working away and, as the great Stephen Sondheim said, ‘MUSICAL COMEDIES AREN’T WRITTEN, THEY ARE REWRITTEN’.”
Gary Barlow added,
“What a phenomenal new cast we have. Tim and I sat in – and indeed played – on the auditions and have been so lucky to have put together such talented ladies.”
Gary Barlow and Tim Firth grew up in the same village in the North of England and have been friends for 25 years. With Take That, Gary has written and co-written 14 number one singles, has sold over 50 million records worldwide and is a six times Ivor Novello Award winner. Tim has won the Olivier Award and UK Theatre Award for Best New Musical, and the British Comedy Awards Best Comedy Film for Calendar Girls.
CALENDAR GIRLS THE MUSICAL is inspired by the true story of a group of ladies, who decide to appear nude for a Women’s Institute calendar in order to raise funds to buy a settee for their local hospital, in memory of one of their husbands, and have to date raised almost £5million for Bloodwise. This musical comedy shows life in their Yorkshire village, how it happened, the effect on husbands, sons and daughters, and how a group of ordinary ladies achieved something extraordinary.
Bloodwise, the UK’s specialist blood cancer charity, will continue to receive monies from this production.
CALENDAR GIRLS The Musical is directed by Matt Ryan and designed by Robert Jones, with comedy staging by Jos Houben, movement by Lucy Hind and casting by Sarah Bird.