Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Stage

Review: ‘Calendar Girls’ stage show needs a touch-up

Oh, how I wish this could be a glowing review of the dramedy Calendar Girls, playing weekends through May 20 at Stage West Community Playhouse.

The show about longtime friends semi-baring their bosoms to make a calendar to raise money to buy a sofa for a local cancer ward is based on a true story. The script is sweet and heartwarming. It’s been a hit around the world and made into a successful movie.

The Stage West production has many of the area’s best actors, including Lynda Dilts-Benson as the attention-starved Chris; Emily Nettnin as her best friend Annie, who is mourning the loss of her husband John, played with conviction by Mark Burdette; Kathy Capelle as the shy, insecure Ruth; Paige Cetnor(CQ) as the sexy, rebellious, but rather materialistic Celia; and Betsy Glasson as the sprightly retired teacher Jessie.

But the devil is in the details, and many of those need tweaking to make this show really shine.

The play opens with members of the local chapter of England’s Women’s Institute, an educational and home demonstration-type organization, listening to a lecture about broccoli by the frumpy Brenda, played a little over-the-top by Cheryl Roberts. They soon learn that Annie’s good-natured, sunflower-loving husband John is dying from leukemia and gather around to comfort her. The subject segues to the horrible settee in the waiting room at his hospital, and the women decide to raise money to replace it as a tribute to John. The problem is that the money they’ve raised with the calendar they put out every year is minuscule, mainly because of its bland subject matter.

They notice that sexy girlie calendars sell well, and that’s when they decide to put out an "alt" calendar with themselves as subjects, never mind that their bodies have decades of wear and tear, to say nothing of extra poundage.

Even so, the calendar becomes an international sensation, but that success tests their friendships and makes them question their life choices.

Like The Full Monty and the movie Apollo 13, most of us already know the capper of the Calendar Girls, so this could easily become a one-trick pony. As the other two did with great success, Girls expands to tell the stories behind the story.

This takes deft staging and acting, since playwrights Juliette Towhidi’s and Tim Firth’s script gives us those stories in intertwined bits and pieces. This also means there can’t be any distractions; it takes concentration to keep seven life stories straight.

One easy fix would be to add some appropriate music during what feels like long blackouts, similar to what was done in last month’s I’ll Be Back Before Midnight. That way, the mood continues and the blackouts seem shorter.

Also, the backlit screen showing a field is lovely, but problems with executing its display draw attention away from the points of those scenes.

More glaring are some of costume designer Eileen Bernard’s choices, particularly with Emily Nettnin’s Annie, who is dressed in unflattering tissue-thin, tight tank tops and clompy backless heels. Since Annie’s is one of the two major roles, dressing her more like the others would help the audience concentrate on her story instead of her outfits.

Lastly, director Sandy Penwarden needs to have her players pick up the pace, as some scenes seem to drag.

Of note are Ellen Hutt as Marie, the oh-so-proper local W.I. chairman, played not too sharp, not too bland; Gary Depp as Rod, Chris’s perhaps too understanding husband and flower shop partner; and Cindy Smith as Cora, the vicar’s "wayward" daughter who feels just fine about her own life choice and isn’t afraid to say so.

Rounding out the cast are Pamela Baur as an above-it-all Lady Cravenshire, the crafts show judge who exemplifies England’s lingering class system; Anthony Agnelli as Lawrence, the hospital orderly who handles photographing the bare naked ladies with delicacy and discretion; and Andrew Hackworth as Liam, a detergent salesman who just wants to do his job, even when it seems crass.

Calendar Girls is a celebration of life, particularly the last years of it, with all its physical imperfections and personal challenges. Even though it centers around nudity, there’s not a prurient moment. In fact, the scene where the women are photographed au naturale is, arguably, the most innocent and sweetest in the show. Even so, the subject matter would probably appeal most to grown-ups, rather than children.

Comments
What’s on stage: Countdown Improv Festival, comics Michael Coylar and Alonzo Bodden

What’s on stage: Countdown Improv Festival, comics Michael Coylar and Alonzo Bodden

SAY YES: COUNTDOWN IMPROV FESTIVAL Since its debut in Tampa last year, the 3-2-1 Improv Festival has grown in size and scope, adding acts and changing its name. Now the Countdown Improv Festival, this three-day celebration of spontaneity brings 39 gr...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Jobsite brings back 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch' while celebrating 20 years

Jobsite brings back 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch' while celebrating 20 years

The first come-to-Jesus meeting kicked off in November, as the Jobsite Theater faithful sipped beer and wine at a local pub and tried to come to grips with the future. This was, of course, inextricably tied up with its recent past, a season that sta...
Published: 08/14/18
A serious, if flawed, effort highlighting PTSD in Innovocative’s ‘Ugly Lies the Bone’

A serious, if flawed, effort highlighting PTSD in Innovocative’s ‘Ugly Lies the Bone’

TAMPA — A veteran of three tours of duty in Afghanistan returns home, her face disfigured in an explosion and dragging a stiff leg. Titusville, the Space Coast town where Lindsey Ferrentino set Ugly Lies the Bone, is reeling, too, from cutbacks to NA...
Published: 08/12/18
Updated: 08/13/18
This week: Innovocative Theatre presents PTSD drama, ‘Ugly Lies the Bone’

This week: Innovocative Theatre presents PTSD drama, ‘Ugly Lies the Bone’

INNOVOCATIVE THEATRE: UGLY LIES THE BONEAn improvised explosive device injures a veteran on her third tour of Afghanistan. She tries to get her life back in Titusville, but the road isn’t easy for Jess, her caregiver sister or her ex-boyfriend. Innov...
Published: 08/08/18
Live Oak Theatre announces 2018-19 season

Live Oak Theatre announces 2018-19 season

BROOKSVILLE — Live Oak Theatre Company has announced the 2018-19 season of shows and audition dates.The season includes three productions:• Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, will be presented weekends, Nov. 2-18.• It’s a Wonderful Life ra...
Published: 08/06/18
Florida Orchestra names Daniel Black as new assistant conductor

Florida Orchestra names Daniel Black as new assistant conductor

ST. PETERSBURG — The Florida Orchestra has hired conductor Daniel Black to share an increased workload in community concerts and other special programs."As our community programs expand, it’s time to make sure they have the unique guidance they deser...
Published: 08/03/18
Updated: 08/06/18
Hawk & Wayne, Steve Byrne and more — improv and comedy thrive in the summer

Hawk & Wayne, Steve Byrne and more — improv and comedy thrive in the summer

HAWK & WAYNE: KARAOKE-PROVImprov keeps going in the summer when everyone else is dark. (They don’t have the same demands as other theaters, and they’re a free-spirited bunch.) For the past nine years, Ricky Wayne, left, and Gavin Hawk, two of the are...
Published: 08/02/18
Lateness, fighting, phones: Seven etiquette violations to avoid at the theater (and a few to disregard)

Lateness, fighting, phones: Seven etiquette violations to avoid at the theater (and a few to disregard)

You might recall the evening of Nov. 8, 2016. Millions of Americans watched election returns coming in, including what seemed like every third audience member attending opening night of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The soft glow...
Published: 08/01/18
Amid ‘Hamilton’ frenzy, Straz season tickets sell out for the first time in history

Amid ‘Hamilton’ frenzy, Straz season tickets sell out for the first time in history

TAMPA — Since the announcement that Hamilton would come to Tampa in February, the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts has fielded inquires from hundreds of customers eager to get seats for the mega-hit musical. How much will thos...
Updated one month ago
Spring Hill playhouse presents Singin’ in the Rain Jr.

Spring Hill playhouse presents Singin’ in the Rain Jr.

SPRING HILL — A classic musical made famous by Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor will come alive this weekend when the youth production of Singin’ in the Rain Jr. is presented at Stage West Community Playhouse, 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd.The...
Updated one month ago