THE joyful journey of the real-life Calendar Girls - from Dales village hall to Hollywood red carpet - would never have happened if it wasn’t for the tragedy at the heart of their story.

It was the death of John Baker, aged 54, that led the ladies of Rylstone and District WI, near Skipton, to embark on a daring venture that changed the face of charity fundraising. Their nude calendar went on to raise more than £6 million for Leukaemia Research and inspired a film, a play and a musical, now re-worked.

There’s a sense of ownership with Calendar Girls the Musical in this neck of the woods - T&A sister paper the Craven Herald gets a mention - and a sense of pride in the Alhambra auditorium when the cast belts out the show’s anthem, Yorkshire. The original staging featured the Dales landscape, whereas this production is set entirely in the village hall, but it’s an effective setting that shifts between weekly WI meetings, a hospital waiting room and the formidable Women’s Institute Federation Conference.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The show is based on the real life WI nude calendarThe show is based on the real life WI nude calendar (Image: Jack Merriman)

Tim Firth’s sparkling script is peppered with comic gems, mostly from the WI pals as they despair at yet another talk about a collection of tea-towels, and the songs, by Firth and Gary Barlow, bring added poignancy.

Scarborough, Annie’s lament to her dying husband John, beautifully performed by Laurie Brett, is a heart-wrenching ballad of grief and loss, as she’s left wondering who will hold the other corners of the sheet and get the beach towels from the top shelf “when you’re not here”.

Rousing showstopper Dare is a nod to each of the women, reflecting on their own lives as their adventure begins.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The terrific cast delighted the Alhambra audienceThe terrific cast delighted the Alhambra audience (Image: Jack Merriman)

This show is a celebration of female friendship and thanks to a first-class cast, these six women felt like our friends too. Laurie Brett is a delight as Annie - “Are you watching this, Clarkey?” she cries, to the clouds, as she discovers she’s braver than she thinks - and Samantha Seager was hugely endearing as Chris, a mine of bright ideas, while mindful of upstaging her teenage son.

Strong performances too from Lyn Paul as Jessie - her performance of What Age Expects was a highlight - Maureen Nolan as Ruth, prolific WI scone-baker and lonely wife, seeking solace in her ‘Russian Friend’, Honeysuckle Weeks as no-nonsense single mum Cora and Liz Carney as Celia, golf club captain’s wife and a bit of a rebel.

This version of the Calendar Girls story shines a brighter spotlight on the men in the story; Colin R Campbell played John beautifully and Andrew Tuton was great as Rod, the photographer nervously coaxing the women out of their dressing-gowns. And Jayne Ashley was a hoot as snooty WI president Marie.

When the women eventually pose for the camera behind cake stands and knitting it’s moving, subtle and great fun - just like the real thing. Beautifully done.

* Calendar Girls the Musical runs at the Alhambra until Saturday.