Denise Welch & Rebecca Storm
Nancy Previs talks to Denise Welch and Rebecca Storm, the stars of Calendar Girls the Musical, who are on their way to Dublin
Nancy Previs chats to two of the stars of Calendar Girls the Musical, as the hit show makes its much anticipated debut in Ireland
Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s show, Calendar Girls the Musical, has been touring the UK since last August and at every venue the reaction has been the same: everyone on their feet at the nal note, chanting for more. “We’re 130 shows in and we’ve had 130 standing ovations!” says Denise Welch, who plays Celia. “It’s a big success.”
I’m sitting with two of the show’s stars, Denise Welch, actor and broadcaster (she played Coronation Street’s Natalie Barnes and recently returned to the Loose Women panel) and veteran musical performer Rebecca Storm. e pair has just arrived at RTÉ for a chat ahead of the show’s two-week run in Dublin.
Denise says that Calendar Girls will be her rst time working in Dublin. “And”, Rebecca reminds her, “the show is also the rst time the two of us have worked together.” ey then show o their Irish connections. Rebecca and her husband Kenny set up home in Co Kildare many years ago, while Denise can trace her Irish lineage to a granny, also from Co Kildare. “Arriving in Dublin last night just made me think,” she says, “I really am going to try and be a good tourist when I’m here with the show. I would love to go down to see where Granny was from.”
Many people will know both the Calendar Girls lm and the play based on it. In 2015, Gary Barlow and Tim Firth (who are old school friends) re-imagined it as a musical. e story is still based on the real-life members of the Yorkshire Women’s Institute (WI) who posed for an extraordinary charity calendar in 1999.
“It’s a play,” Denise explains, “with music, as opposed to a musical in the traditional sense. Sometimes musicals can have a imsy storyline and then these fabulous numbers that people burst into. With Calendar Girls e Musical, the music enhances the words.”
Rebecca Storm is much loved by Irish audiences for her portrayal of Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers (a role she’s played for more than three decades). She is also the lead in Calendar Girls, playing Chris, the character based on Trisha Stewart, the real Yorkshire woman who rst came up with the idea of doing the calendar.
“We’ve met Trisha many times and she’s a feisty no-nonsense woman…she takes no prisoners,” Rebecca says with respect. “Trisha was actually the one who talked the other WI gals into posing for the photos. In the show, they’re obviously not naked but it’s all to do with comedy and how their bits are covered up,” laughs Rebecca.
For the musical, dramatist Tim Firth has eshed out the pivotal character of Chris. “She’s feisty but there are two or three sides to Chris. So when Chris’s 17-year-old son is suddenly disgusted with his mother for coming up with the idea for the calendar, we see her vulnerable side. It’s quite a tough role for me,” reveals Rebecca. “Although the characters are fundamentally based on the true story, obviously there is dramatic licence as well, and all with the approval of the original calendar girls. So when they come and tell us that this is one of their favourite productions of the story – from the lm to the play to now – it’s a massive compliment,” adds Denise.
For Rebecca, playing Chris has been a surprising event in her career. “Well, I’m 61 now, and I never thought I would go out on a tour like this, ever. I’d virtually packed it in. I auditioned rst for producer David Pugh, next for Tim, and nally for Gary – literally three
auditions in the space of a month, which wasn’t the easiest experience in my life but yet it was one of the most rewarding, I love the part!” she sighs, slipping off her heels and relaxing back into the sofa. The shoes are her character’s – she shows me the inside of one, with her name written on a strip of tape. “I don’t normally have my name in my shoes!” she laughs.
Denise is thrilled with her character, describing the sparky Celia, as “a bit of an amalgam of several of the women. She’s an exair hostess who wanted to get away from her Yorkshire village because she felt there was a bigger world outside, but who, like many of us, including myself, realises as she gets older that all she ever wanted was on her doorstep back at home. That is very much where I am in my life. “Celia is married to Denis, who is a member of a golf club, and she’s trying to conform. She’s wearing button-up dresses but actually wants to let it all hang out because that’s who she really is, and with that comes a lot of humour, but,” Denise is quick to point out, “there’s never anything bawdy about this show. The photoshoot for the calendar is part of a developing story of empowering older women and I think that is one of the best things that has come out of the show’s success. Women our age feel invisible a lot of the time, but Calendar Girls the Musical actually celebrates older women. You must be an older woman to be in this show.”
“And,” adds Rebecca, “each of the girls is a completely different character, so there’s never a dull moment. It’s a laugh a minute.”
Denise will play Celia until August, while Rebecca will be touring with the show for longer – at least through 2019 – but she isn’t lonely for family. “Kenny is in the show’s band on double bass, and little Charlie, our King Charles spaniel, is on tour with us too.”
Rebecca says she’s really looking forward to performing in Dublin again. “I’m really proud that I’ve been in shows like Blood Brothers that Dublin has loved and I genuinely cannot wait to experience the Dublin reaction to this one.”
Calendar Girls the Musical makes its Irish premiere in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre from January 22 to February 2
““It’s a play with music, as opposed to a musical in the traditional sense
The Calendar Girls cast with writers Tim Firth and Gary Barlow