By Daniel Skora
I love, I love, I love my calendar girl
Yeah, sweet calendar girl…
Neil Sedaka was 22 in 1962 when the song he wrote about his calendar girl went to #4 on the American pop charts. That would have made him almost 60 years old in 1998, just the right age to appreciate the beauty and the intelligence of the 45- to 65-year old women of the Rylstone District Women’s Institute (a rather lackluster name for a women’s group, but this is, after all, the British) who were putting out a calendar of their own. Neil would have loved these calendar girls, too.
Eleven members of the Women’s Institute were attempting to raise money to purchase a settee for the hospital where one of the women’s husbands who was suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was being treated. One of the women suggested that it might be good for sales to pose nude for the calendar, tastefully, of course, in poses that made it clear that they were nothing more than your basic homemakers engaging in everyday activities like baking and knitting and tending to their gardens, the only difference being that they were performing their chores without the benefit of wearing clothes. The calendars sold well, very well, in fact, and the small initial printing went through several reprintings in order to satisfy the demand. As a result, they were not only able to purchase their settee, but they raised over a half million dollars for leukemia research as well.
As all interesting stories eventually do, “Calendar Girls” garnered the attention of those willing and able to make the story available to a wider audience. In 2003, a movie version became a worldwide success. A stage adaptation written by Tim Firth followed in 2008. It’s the Michigan premiere of this stage version of “Calendar Girls” that’s currently playing at Meadow Brook Theatre.
The show takes a fun-filled look at six mature women (five of the original eleven who appeared in the calendar declined to sell their stories) who develop misgivings about exposing their past-their-prime bodies to the world, even though it’s for a worthy cause. There are many touching moments in the play, about love, about loss, and about the camaraderie that forms between six unique women who accepted the challenge of an experience that would make most women blush.
Sandwiched between the beginning and the poignant ending parts of the play is the larger and relentlessly hilarious middle section that has the women working up their courage and going through with being photographed in the nude. Like the original calendar girls, those of the MBT along with the show’s director Travis W. Walter have come up with ingenious ways to both reveal and conceal. MaryJo Cuppone, Mary Gant, Julia Glander, Stephanie Nichols, Debbie Williams, and Stacy White play the six women who shocked the British Empire from January to December. It’s hard to imagine that any of the six actresses will ever be in another play with such interesting staging problems to overcome. Glander and Williams have the larger parts, Williams because it’s her character’s husband who has taken ill, Glander because her character is the ringleader to do the calendar the way it was done. Others in the show include Ruth Crawford and Dorry Peltyn as two hoity toity officers of the Institute, Kimberly Alley as a makeup artist with eyes for one of the women’s husbands, and since wherever there are women there must be men, Richard Marlatt, Phil Powers, and Garret Michael Harris.
“Calendar Girls” is a story with a warm heart and plenty of laughs. Meadow Brook’s production is lively, colorful, and entertaining. It features another great MBT set, this one by Jen Price Fick. Costume design is by Liz Goodall with lighting by Reid G. Johnson. In a play where everyone’s talking with a British accent, a dialect coach is a necessity and Karen Sheridan fills the bill here. There’s no signature Travis Walter dance number to close out the show, for there’s a bit of the new age culture about these women. Eventually, sunflowers come to rule the set and a lovely T’ai Chi routine closes the show instead.
“Calendar Girls” runs through April 10th. Tickets are available by calling the Meadow Brook box office at 1.248.377.3300 or going online to www.ticketmaster.com. Meadow Brook Theatre is located on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester MI.