About ten minutes into the show it became clear to me that the script for Calendar Girls, based on the Miramax Motion Picture by Juliette Towhidi and Tim Firth, posed some significant challenges to stage. With six talented leading ladies, a simplistic set with a few "wow" reveals, and nice comedic timing, Bay City Players' third show of Season 100 is a mixed bag, but ultimately good fun.
After Annie (Debbie Lake's) husband dies of cancer, her best friend Chris (Kathy Pawloski) and the other members of her ladies' group hatch a scheme to raise money for a memorial for him. Co-opting the annual calendar fundraiser, the women of the W.I.(Women’s Institute) decide to shoot a calendar showing all of the classic womanly pursuits, with one twist - they themselves would be posing for the calendar, naked. I'm sorry, nude.
Lake and Pawloski balance each other perfectly in their respective leading roles, with Pawloski's incandescent energy immediately drawing the eye. It's hard not to imagine her being able to coax even the most shy housewife into posing nude - as long as it's for charity, I should say. Lake hits all the right notes emotionally and forms a caring heart to a story that can sometimes be a bit thin. Another standout actress is Sarah Greene as "goody two-shoes" Ruth. She hits the comic notes just right with her character, and is a joy to watch. Elise Williams as "trophy wife" Celia has a few very funny gags, and her reactions throughout the show are perfection. Janet Dixon as "woman your age" Jessie does a wonderful job with dry humor and a lovely monologue in the middle of Act 1.
Without question, the best part of the show is the Act 1 closing scene when the calendar is being shot. Ed Borus does a nice job as an amateur photographer sometimes caught between a rock and hard place, and this scene is also where our final leading lady, Jeanne Cadena, shines. As a vicar's daughter turned bad girl, her laughter is infectious, improv skills are magnificent, and she and the other ladies of the W.I. really get clicking together as a cast as they appear onstage in various stages of undress. The audience cheered after every lady appeared for their photo - the fact that this is a community production featuring "regular" women and not professional actresses made us all feel the fun and bravery of this scene, and it was a joy.
Unfortunately not all the scenes clicked as well as this one. The first problem is that this story is very, very British. The choice by director Susan Craves to not do accents meant that the lines were very clear, but the constant use of British slang and inflection were a little hard to follow at times. The second issue is that the script is adapted from a film, and there are a lot of transitions with some odd pop musical choices that weren't always cohesive and sometimes jarring. The set by Tyler Leonard had two beautiful reveal moments that I won't spoil, but other than that was static, and I found myself wanting perhaps one more thing to look at, since so much happened in this one scene. Lighting by David Newsham was also a bit static though there were no dark spots.
Costumes by Cindy Moeltor, Rhonda Branch, and Liz Dewey were an immense task - I lost track, but each actress had to have at least 5-10 outfits and changes were accomplished quickly and professionally. Every piece was flattering, and while a few specialty pieces could have been improved a bit, overall it was a huge job well done. I did find myself wondering what period the show was set in - silhouettes were flowing and prints were bold, and that combined with the set gave off a significant late 90's vibe that was cohesive, but definitely not contemporary.
Fortunately the cast was very strong. Our leading ladies were great as I've mentioned, and there was not a single weak link in the supporting cast. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the small but pivotal performance by Andy Hanson as commercial director Liam. He embodied his character and left a lasting impact despite the small amount of time he spent on stage. Also a standout was Judy Harper as traditionalist and W.I. leader (at least in her own mind) Marie. She brought a refreshing change of pace every time she came on stage, and had some memorable sight gags and improv of her own.
Ultimately whatever snafus or difficulties were presented, Calendar Girls kept the audience laughing and caused us to leave with smiles on our faces. It's certainly worth going to see for yourself (provided you can still get tickets!)
Show runs Jan 26th, 27th & 28th & Feb 1st, 2nd, 3rd &4th
Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 7:30pm Sunday at 3:00pm
Box office: 989-893-5555