Calendar Girls Takes Off at Ivoryton Playhouse

By Amy J. Barry

A heartwarming true story in response to a real life charitable fundraising phenomenon was the inspiration for the 2003 British Blockbuster film Calendar Girls starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters.

If you haven’t seen the movie, a group of middle-aged women, who belonged to the Women’s Institute (WI) -- sort of a British women’s auxiliary -- came up with the “shocking” idea of producing a nude calendar to raise funds for Leukemia & Lymphoma Research. The deadly disease had taken the life of one of the member’s husbands. Between 1999-2010, the women raised over $3 million dollars, just on calendar sales alone.

Typically, plays are made into movies, not the other way around, but in the case of Calendar Girls, screenwriter Tim Firth adapted the movie to the stage, which opened in London in 2008.

In a sort of art imitates life imitates art, the play that takes place in a small English village is now making its U.S. debut at the Ivoryton Playhouse in the small village of Ivoryton, Connecticut -- and selling its own calendar for charity, featuring the women in the Playhouse production.

Jacqui Hubbard, the theater’s executive/artistic director, directs and performs in the ensemble as the kindhearted, grief-stricken Annie, whose gentle husband John, played genuinely by R. Bruce Connelly, succumbs to the disease (he’s gone by act II). Annie is surrounded by the supportive women of the WI -- from the elder, wonderfully acerbic Jessie (Maggie McGlone Jennings) to the lets-not-make-waves Ruth (Lily Dormant) to the lets-make-as-many-waves-as-possible Chris, played with great spirit and eye rolls by Beverley Taylor—the Ivoryton’s company director and veteran actress. Beverley is the naughty kid in class defying the uptight, take charge Marie (Victoria Bundonis), WI leader, who brings in such scintillating programs as the history of the tea towel and initiates most of what little conflict there is in the play.

It is Chris, who promotes the idea of the nude (not naked, she stresses) calendar in memory of dear John and as a more profitable fundraiser than Marie’s suggestion of another calendar of local (yawn) scenes -- specifically the bridges of Waltham.

The scandalous calendar is much more tame than expected -- yes, you can bring kids to the show -- they’ll see far more skin on HBO.

(All the vodka the women consume straight out of the bottle for courage before disrobing is far less wholesome).

But the way Hubbard has set-up the photo shoot is terrific, with each of the women discreetly stripping down and posing behind flowers, fruit, pastries, teapots, etc., and then photographed by the initially shy but increasingly bold Lawrence, nicely performed by Erik Bloomquist. Each freeze-frame is instantly projected on large screens to either side of the stage.

Firth’s script is squeamishly sentimental in places, but the ensemble pulls it off with lots of enthusiasm and comic relief.

The play is really about the fierce bond between the women, despite their differences, and their loyalty and commitment to doing a good deed for a good friend and a good cause, even if that means putting themselves outside their comfort zone -- and one feels that genuinely in this production.

Calendar Girls is at the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton, through June 21. Tickets are available by calling the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or online at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

The limited edition, July 2015 - June 2016 calendar, featuring the actresses and actors in the Ivoryton Playhouse production of Calendar Girls, is available for purchase from the Ivoryton Playhouse for $20 and can be picked up at the box office or mailed for $23 by calling 860-767-9520. Calendars are also sold at each performance.

A portion of the proceeds will be donated to local cancer charities: Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation; Little Wonder -- enriching the lives of cancer patients by giving them tickets to entertainment events; Valley Shore YMCA -- Hope is Power Program; and Middlesex Hospital's Center for Survivorship and Integrative Medicine.

Spotlighted in the local Calendar Girls calendar: Jacqui Hubbard, (Playhouse artistic/executive director and director of the play); Beverley Taylor (company manager), Vickie Blake, Danielle Bonanno, Erik Bloomquist, Victoria Bundonis, R. Bruce Connelly, Lily Dorment, David Edwards, Katrina Ferguson, Maggie McGlone Jennings, and Maria Silverman.

Chris Devlin Photography donated the photography and Essex Printing sponsored the calendar printing.

This review appears in Shore Publishing community weeklies, and online at zip06.com and theday.com.


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