On the heels of a wildly successful run of Steinbeck’s classic Of Mice and Men, Woodford Theatre is back with lighter fare just in time for spring.
While Of Mice and Men leaned on a predominantly male cast, Calendar Girls, the theater’s latest comedic romp, is all about the ladies.
The play, by Tim Firth, is based on a true story about a group of women in Yorkshire, England, who wanted to raise money for their local hospital’s cancer ward after one woman’s husband dies of Leukemia.
All members of their local chapter the Women’s Institute, which annually produced a locally-themed calendar to raise money for charity, the women decide to boost sales of their next calendar by featuring a surprising twist: they pose nude.
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Tired of sitting on the springy, uncomfortable hospital furniture, the women have a very specific fundraising goal — to buy a settee. Their calendar is wildly successful and they end up raising several hundred thousand dollars to support Leukemia research.
The play is based on the 2003 film starring Helen Mirren and has the same British, ordinary-folks-doing-extraordinary-things, feel-good vibe as films like The Full Monty.
It is a certifiable hoot.
Saturday night’s audience was practically rolling in the aisles during many of the show’s funnier moments, the funniest of which is the extended photo shoot scene when the women actually pose nude on stage. Note: nude, as the show preaches, is not the same as naked. The actresses on stage, like their real lifecalendar counterparts, may not have their clothes on, but the audience doesn’t see any bits they shouldn’t thanks to director Patti Heying’s whimsically innovative blocking.
An all star cast, including Sherry Jackson Thompson, Melissa Rae Wilkeson, Sharon Sikorski, Gina Scott-Lynaugh, Grace Anne Miles and Susan Thomas, comprise the “calendar girls,” each turning in sparklingly funny performances, although some could stand to improve the organic consistency of their English accents.
Evender Hodges Sanders is a playful but potent foil as the hyper-serious Marie, head of the Yorkshire branch of Women’s Institute, who must, at first, be kept in the dark about the nude calendar project. Marie Henderson, Graeme Hart, and Chris Williams are enjoyable in brief supporting roles as well.
Speaking of supporting roles, Tim Hull’s act one portrayal of a man’s deterioration from cancer is deftly rendered, sobering emotional gut punch and effectively lays the groundwork for the emotional payoff in later scenes.
While the show is at its best during scenes that inspire raucous laughter, it starts to drag in the second act as each character rather formulaically resolves individual personal crises in turn, a pat leftover from the movie version that feels a bit more tedious on stage.
Thankfully, these somewhat forced subplots move quickly and are redeemed by further moments of comedy and in a couple instances, sweeping pathos, particularly the women’s heart-stirring, full-circle visit to a hill covered by sunflowers in memory of Hull’s character, John.
A delightful comedic escape, Calendar Girls is the kind of show you want to see with your mom or sister or girlfriends, although plenty of men were guffawing in Saturday's audience.
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer and critic.
What: Tim Firth’s comedy, based on the 2003 movie, presented by The Woodford Theatre.
When: 8 p.m. March 11, 12, 18, 19; 2 p.m. March 13 and 20
Where: Falling Springs Arts and Recreation Center, 275 Beasley Dr., Versailles