Calendar Girls

Ben Miles Reviews - Theater
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Inspired by a true-life story, Calendar Girls became a film starring Helen Mirren.  That was in 2003. Ms. Mirren has sustained her beauty and has continued to displayed her wide-ranging acting talents ever since.

Luckily, Tim Firth adapted the screenplay of Calendar Girls into a stage play. That show premiered in 2008 in Great Britain. And, like Ms. Mirren, the play, now being staged at the impressive Newport Theatre Arts Center in Newport Beach, through July 2, is beautifully sustained and remains theatrically viable.

Ably directed by Bob Fetes, with credibly functional stagecraft – set design, Andrew Otero; costuming, Claudia Berglund and Mary DiPaoli; lighting, Chris Henrriquez; sound, Brian Page – Calendar Girls allows us to willingly suspend disbelief and imagine the scenario unfolding before our very eyes.

That scenario portrays a cadre of upper middle-age British women deciding to pose in the rosy buff for the coming year's calendar in order to raise charity funds for the benefit of one of the ladies whose husband suffers from a dire diagnosis. But whether they're "naked" or "nude" becomes an amusing debate among the ladies – the former suggesting an explicit state of raw vulnerability; the latter supposedly conveying a more nuanced and aesthetic view of the unclothed feminine form.

At a running time of about two-hours and a cast of thirteen players, four of which are male roles fulfilled by the comically attuned Brian Bond, doing dual duty as both Lawrence and Brendan; Thom Gilbert as John; James Gittelson as Rod; and Matt Koutroulis as Liam – Calendar Girls packs a lot in on the Newport stage.

But it is the ladies who are the prime focus of Calendar Girls, and they are a mixed bag of personalities and proclivities. Della Lisa Kerr embodies Chris, the putative leader of this group of dare-doers; Michelle Bendetti plays Elaine with effective comedy timing; Kathleen Fabry is onboard as Mrs. Cravenshire; Mary Pat Gonzalez characterizes Brenda; curvy  Nancy Higley provides eye-candy as Celia; Michelle Miller-Day is formidable as Annie; Andrea LaVela as Maria is the one we love to hate; Lorraine Winslow does well as Jessie; and replacing the recently hospitalized Roxanne Martinez as Ruth is Kip Hogan, still on book but performing heroically and hilariously. Kudos to her.

Calendar Girls is a sort of feminine Full Monty. The stage version of that man-centered show is a musical. Unsurprisingly, it was recently announced that Calendar Girls is being reworked into a musical as well. It's due to premiere this year under the title The Girls. Nevertheless, mark your calendars for Newport's homegrown production.

What: Calendar Girls

Where: Newport Theatre Arts Center, 2501 Cliff Drive, Newport Beach

When: Through July 2; 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at 8 p.m.

Cost: $20

Information:  (949) 631-0288 or visit ntaconline.com.