BWW Album Review: CALENDAR GIRLS (Original London Recording) is Just Nice
Recently Decca Records released CALENDAR GIRLS (Original London Recording), and everything about the album is just perfectly nice. Based on the charming and quaint 2003 film by the same title written by Tim Firth, the musical itself garnered warm notices from London media. So, it is no surprise that the music and this cast was recorded for preservation; however, the two-disc album doesn't convince listeners that this musical is better than the original film as some British theater writers claim.
The music and lyrics come from a collaboration between Firth and Gary Barlow, best known as the front man for the UK pop sensation Take That. On one hand, the music and lyrics are pleasant and uplifting, which is an overall win for the album. On the other hand, the music and lyrics are disappointingly pedestrian, only serviceably progressing the story along for a majority of the production. I'm certain people who have seen the musical in performance will enjoy the dual disc album for its ability to conjure memories of the show in their mind. For the rest of us, the recordings largely fall flat. Each number bleeds into the other in a way that is unappealing because each track sounds too similar to the one before and after it. In fact, it's almost as if the desire to create a cohesive score eradicated the desire to build songs filled with panache and gusto.
Yet, there are a handful of bold exceptions to these criticisms. The first comes from the jazzy and spunky track "Who Wants a Silent Night?," then the show reaches its glistening and brilliant pinnacle with "Sunflower," and it mostly holds steady with the Act I closer "Dare." The highlights of Act II are the character song "So I've Had a Little Work Done" and the tear-drenched "Kilimanjaro." Tunes like "Who Wants a Silent Night?," "Dare," and "Kilimanjaro" craftily employ the feisty nature tucked within these characters to create powerful pop showtune anthems, but "Sunflower" is the true saving grace of the entire project. This 11 o'clock number like song, destined to be a standard in audition rooms for middle-aged women wanting to show dynamic emotional range, is perfectly crafted. The lyrics are clever. The music builds with purpose. The vocal melody is irresistibly catchy, and the resonant performance from Joanna Riding is exceptionally moving and gracefully authoritative.
Overall listening to the album is an affable experience, it's just not one that is memorable. Lyrics like "don't act the colour of your hair, act the colour of your heart" perfectly summarize the core of the show's tenacity. Thus, it never feels like there is a missed opportunity on the record. It just feels like no legitimate risks were actually taken. The lyrics and music are played too safely, which I can only guess is to dramatically emphasize the risky yet artful nudity the musical requires. In a show about older women fed-up with the dictates of decorum and challenging societal standards of appropriateness, it's frustrating to see that the bite in the lyrics is often kept at a level that is as feeble as an octogenarian trying to gum a firm apple after misplacing their dentures.