Carla Bakker, Roxzane Armstrong, Caryl Moore and Debby Allan (left to right) rehearse a scene from the Red Deer Players production of Calendar Girls.(Photo by Jeff Stokoe/Advocate staff)

Review: Life-affirming message and some laugh-out-loud moments in Calendar Girls

Red Deer Players’ benefit play runs to March 18 at Scott Block theatre

Two of the bare-naked ladies covered themselves with strategically placed flowers and cupcakes.

The others, in cheeky Austen Powers style, hid their nudity behind rows of jams, a large teapot, and balls of knitting yarn as a photographer snaps away…

That uproariously staged scene — which culminates in a Christmas shot of the whole gang in the buff — is, of course, at the centre of Calendar Girls, the Red Deer Players production running at the Scott Block Theatre in Red Deer.

As anyone who’s seen the film version of this story will know, it’s based on a real-life enterprise by members of the Knapeley Women’s Institute in England. They sell nude-ish calendars of themselves to raise money after a husband of one of the women dies of cancer.

The women start with the modest goal of replacing an old couch in the local hospital. But charitable calendar sales go behind their wildest imaginings once the world catches wind of the photos of the women doing all the usual domestic things associated with the WI, baking, knitting etc — only without clothes on.

The comedy, directed by Lori Lane, and adapted from the movie by Juliette Towhidi and Tim Firth, has a strong cast led by Roxzane Armstrong, as the WI ringleader Chris, Caryl Moore, as Annie, and Paul Boultbee as Annie’s dying husband, John.

Audience members could practically feel the good will coming off the stage during Saturday’s production. After all, this play is helping start a local scholarship in the name of the late Carole Forhan, a beloved member of both Red Deer Players and Central Alberta Theatre, who devoted much of her life to the stage before dying recently of cancer.

Although the action on-stage started out rather too slowly, the cast’s energy level and speaking volumes thankfully picked up by the second act. That’s when conflict between the characters grew as success did strange things to Chris, and Annie had to use her wisdom to bring her friend back down to earth.

Debby Allan, shined as the shyest WI member, Ruth, who has to summon all her courage to disrobe, and Lorraine Stuart was a real hoot as brassy Jessie — who turns the young photographer (played by David Weiss) 10 shades of red by reminding him that she was his teacher.

Since this is an ensemble effort, kudos also go to: Franciska Bakker-Sephton (Carla), Carla Bakker (Cora), Lesley Parfett (Marie), Nigel Lane (Rod), Glorene Ellis (Lady Cravenshire), John Deguara (Liam), Pamela Miller (Brenda) and Anamaria Firu (Elaine).

Calendar Girls is a life-affirming play with heart — as well as several laugh-out-loud moments. It runs to March 18 (please visit www.reddeerplayers.com).

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