Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
Clio Cast and Crew took a leap of faith Friday night as they launched Tim Firth’s hilarious, moving and overall impressive performance of Calendar Girls. It is based on a true story about a group of middle-aged British women who posed for and printed a calendar with themselves in the nude to make money for their local hospital.
Why, you may ask, would these matronly gals do such a thing – and we can assure you they have a strong and heartfelt reason. But the show begins with six ladies gathered for their Women’s Institute (WI) meeting (think female Elks club). Chris (Paula Price) leads the exercises while Cora (Sandra Turner) plays piano accompaniment.
Annie (Judie Santo), Ruth (Sue Bennett), Jessie (Lorrie McCarty) and Celia (Mattie Speed) are willing to go along with Chris but not when she’s making up new moves. Annie is tired and worried about her husband, John. He is waiting for a diagnosis that will not be good.
Jeff Rogner is interesting as John. He provides a good look at someone going down hill fast as he moves from his energetic first appearance to his wheelchair-bound weakened state. It is his death that sparks Chris to decide to raise funds for a more comfortable settee for the oncology waiting room where Annie spent so much time.
The idea is unanimously accepted until the ladies realize that Chris means to craft a calendar starring THEM!
This is perhaps the best part of the show as each one is set up and posed with carefully arranged props guarding their modesty but illustrating the things each likes to do. There are large muffins for the baker, flowers for the gardener, yarn for the knitter … you get the idea. Director Maggie Harmon has worked wonders with this staging as each gal comes to her moment. Quite well choreographed, it allows the audience to enjoy it and never worry that something will go awry. Fortified by wine and the support of each other, the ladies carry on producing marvelous pictures all while the comedic aspect of the affair bubbles through.
Each of these gals deserve praise for their individuality as they create characters so believable they may resemble someone you know. Annie is at the heart of the piece as she moves from light into darkness when her husband dies. Santo touchingly portrays Annie’s constant effort to move on in the face of this awful loss.
Price plays Chris as caring yet very strong as she strives to bring both Annie and the WI into a successful and praiseworthy place. Her efforts are often criticized but they win out in the end.
Celia is flashy, alluring, and outspoken. Speed brings this colorful character to glorious life in style. Cora worries about what her daughter will think of her. Turner is funny and forceful in this role that we can all relate to on some level.
McCarty’s Jessie is a hoot as the retired teacher who says whatever pops into her head. Her quip to the cameraman was perfect. Finally, Ruth is sweet and sensible. Bennett brings out her comic sense first with her bunny outfit and then surprises with her reaction to the photo shoot.
Others of note include Melanie Poisson as the haughty WI leader Marie, Cassidy Couturier as Brenda the broccoli lecturer, William Kircher as Chris’s husband Rod, Rebecca Norris as the surprising Lady Cravenshire, Steve Yerian as the photographer Lawrence and Preston Sanicolas as Liam the photographer’s assistant.
Calendar Girls is a lovely story of friendship, determination and courage. It is also about loss, the importance of perseverance and the belief that all these can bring us what we strive for … or even more. Go see it – you’ll be really glad you did!
Calendar Girls continues at Clio Cast and Crew’s Theatre 57, 2220 W. Vienna Road, Clio, MI 48420 through May 5. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-687-2588 or online at cliocastandcrew.com