By Dale King
Here’s the skinny on Calendar Girls, the sexy, comic stage production with a tender and heartwarming backstory that opens the 2019-2020 season at Delray Beach Playhouse.
The more mature may think the show has something to do with singer Neil Sedaka, who had a hit song of a similar name around 1959. No, in truth, Calendar Girls is based on actual events that occurred in England not all that long ago.
British playwright Tim Firth crafted the story of the Calendar Girls and what they did to raise money for a worthy cause. There’s a lot more to the story than meets the eye, and the resulting mix of humor, sadness, realization and righteous tenacity touches the audience emotionally. The finale is a testament to the importance of love, friendship and bonding.
The cast – a fairly large ensemble – delivers the goods with assurance and self-confidence.
The tale actually made its celluloid debut in 2003, in a film starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walker. The successful and popular flick spun off the stage comedy that’s now entertaining crowds at the showplace in Delray, and a musical version has since hit the theatrical circuit.
Those who catch the show will find the Playhouse looking spiffier, and its bill of fare more diverse than it has in some time. Kevin Barrett, in his third year as executive director, has added cabaret shows and single-performer tributes to supplement Randolph DelLago’s musical memories, which continue.
Calendar Girls brings lots of familiar faces to the fore along with well-heeled performers from other places who have descended on Delray Beach, all of them packing esteemed résumés and plenty of stage presence.
The spotlight literally and figuratively focuses on the half-dozen women of the W.I. — sort of a women’s club in England formed during World War I that has become the nation’s largest volunteer organization.
Cora (Karen Whaley), Chris (Marcie Hall), Annie (Helen Buttery), Jessie (Elise Levine), Celia (Amy Salerno) and Ruth (Clelia Patrizio) make up the core group. Some are at odds with Marie (Delray veteran Charlotte Sherman), who rules the cluster with a conservative iron fist.
When Annie’s husband John (Bill Brewer) dies of leukemia, she and her long-standing best friend Chris resolve to raise money for a new settee to replace the worn and lumpy sofa in the local hospital waiting room.
They notice that sexy girlie calendars sell well, so they persuade four friends and fellow members of the W.I. to pose nude (with appropriately placed coverings) with them for an “alternative” calendar.
Scenes of the photo shoot are a hoot in themselves as the ladies of modest middle age try to hide their treasures from lurking eyes. Apparently, some skin does escape concealment since the calendar becomes a raging success and the ladies soon raise the money needed — and much more.
Their efforts also catch the attention of the national and international press, who soon descend on the small village of Knapeley in Yorkshire. But it also ignites tension and disagreements among the calendar stars.
Director DelLago brings the show to a quiet, reasonable and believable ending that touches every heart in the place.
The six Calendar Girls excellently move the play along and seem actually to enjoy being photographed in the semi-buff. Hall, a Delray habitual, is particularly energetic, and she transits well to the disappointment that follows when the ladies realize that their fame does little to memorialize their deceased buddy, John.
As Annie, Buttery has the additional burden of widowhood on her shoulders, yet remains strong throughout most of the show. She gives in to her grief only after the calendar’s success begins tearing at her.
A lead player in some two dozen roles, Sherman continues her string of darker portrayals as the head honcho of the women’s group. She does find a road to compassion at play’s end as reconciliation among the W.I. members seems to be in the offing.
Rainey Hayes has a small, but significant part as Lady Cravenshire, from the local aristocracy, who adds a touch of comic relief, whether it’s needed or not, with her matronly overreactions to the near-naked ladies.
In addition to a fine fleet of performers, plaudits go to the set crew, who have concocted a finely crafted English-style hall. The setting breaks only once, near the end, to reveal a lovely paean to John Richard Baker, the man whose death in 1998 of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma set the Calendar Girls’ saga in motion.
In keeping with the original Calendar Girls’ ongoing fundraising for Baker’s memory, the Delray Beach Playhouse is contributing a portion of proceeds from the play to the Holy Cross Hospital’s Partners in Health program.
Calendar Girls runs through Oct. 20 at the Delray Beach Playhouse, 950 NW 9th St. (Lake Shore Drive), Delray Beach. All tickets are $35 and may be purchased online at delraybeachplayhouse.com or by calling 561-272-1281.