Essentially, Calendar Girls has it all – comedy, drama, tragedy, poignancy – all woven together in a finely-produced rendition of the 2003 hit movie.
Presented by the Red Deer Players, the show runs through to March 18th at the Scott Block Theatre downtown.
Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. and there is a matinee performance on March 12th at 2 p.m. as well.
Director Lori Lane, as usual, again wields an exceptional ability for drawing the strengths out of her actors – and casting a convincing group of actors who play friends who band together for a great cause.
Set in Yorkshire, England, Calendar Girls is the true story of a group of Women’s Institute ladies who made a tremendous difference. According to the synopsis, when one of their fellow members (Annie) loses her husband to leukemia, they set about to raise money to replace the sofa in the hospital waiting room.
Their calendar campaign – featuring the ladies nude with strategically placed props was a smash hit – going on to gain world-wide recognition and resulted in millions being raised for the fight against cancer.
Annie (Caryl Moore) and her husband John (Paul Boultbee) are struggling to come to terms with his cancer diagnosis – but thankfully they have a loving and supportive community around them.
Her best friend Chris (Roxzane Armstrong) in particular is a rock during these dark and tumultuous times. Armstrong is especially strong as the take-charge, vivacious and confident Chris – who really is a driving force behind bringing the clever and daring calendar idea up initially.
Rounding out the cast is the always funny Debby Allan as the rather shy, tentative Ruth – who ultimately blossoms into a more sure-footed independent woman as well.
Lorraine Stuart plays the hilarious Jessie, who provides lots of blustery comic relief to the show all the way through.
As the youngest of the troupe, Carla Bakker does a pleasant turn as single mom Cora, who is really going out on a limb with the calendar project as her father is, after all, a vicar.
As Celia, Franciska Bakker-Sephton brings style and sexiness to her role – combined with a frank, charismatic and charming touch.
And Lesley Parfett is terrific as the constantly agitated head of the Women’s Institute chapter – always trying to make sure everything is ‘just so’ and manage these ‘renegade’ women.
Ultimately, it’s a rather intricate story to pull off with multiple scene changes, costume changes and the utilization of props – plus most of the women are onstage almost all of the time – so pacing, particularly in the funnier moments – is absolutely critical.
Truthfully, the show is a bit slow going at first as the foundation of the story is laid. And the terrifically-staged ‘centerpiece’ scene – shooting the famous photos – is smack in the middle, so keeping momentum going over the second half isn’t easy either. This is where things get a bit grittier too – as the strains of their runaway, international popularity start to grow. Again, Lane and the creative team have come up with some lovely ways of enriching the story – such as one part where the women share letters from people who were affected by the calendar in one way or another – the impact of the project, first seen as largely a lark, begins to really hit home.
Lane and her intrepid group of actors manage to pull it off for the most part.
There are some portions where things do need to step up a bit in terms of energy, flow and timing – and some of the ladies are a bit too careful with their performances at times – more moments with real robust expression, for example, would fire things up that much further.
But that said, there are lots of engaging highlights.
Boultbee is terrific as John, a likable chap – beloved in the community – who is coming to grips with his impending death. Boultbee is such a naturally gifted actor, his moments onstage are among the most powerful and moving – and the scenes depicting his passing are done so well in such an imaginative, meaningful way.
Nigel Lane is also a blast as Chris’s good natured husband Rod. Again, his time onstage is minimal but key and memorable.
As Annie, Moore is in some ways at the heart of the story.
Moore plays her well – mainly by her range of expressions – her face reflects much of what’s going on inside. This is a funny, but thoughtful and contemplative character – and Moore nails those aspects of Annie really well.
The play is also dedicated to the late Carole Forhan, who was such a huge supporter of bringing the play to local audiences in the first place.
Last summer, she was diagnosed with cancer. Eventually, it was discovered that she was terminally ill.
As fall came around, the idea of forming a scholarship in her name was sparked.
She passed away in October.
So it’s fitting that, as mentioned, the production is dedicated to her, and also that opening night was a gala event as well in support of the Carole Forhan Theatrical Arts Scholarship.
Ultimately, Calendar Girls is a treat – it’s a story about love, community, the enduring power of friendship – and of an amazing group of women who chose to defy convention and just go for it – supporting an amazing cause.
You can’t go wrong with staging really what is already a winner in pretty much every way.
Again, for more information or for tickets, check out www.reddeerplayers.com.