Tuesday, January 26, 2016

reviews - CALENDAR GIRLS - Phoenix Theatre

Elyse Wolf, Shari Watts
photo: Erin Evangeline Photography
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

Click here for more information on this production that runs through February 7th.

"...the pleasant and largely welcoming English comedy Calendar Girls...The inspiration behind the events occurred in Yorkshire, Northern England in 1998, and it’s one that on its home turf has become legend. A man called John Baker died of Leukemia at the age of only 54. John’s wife, Angela, and the ladies of the local chapter of the national Women’s Institute (referred to as simply the W.I.) decided that in John’s honor, instead of singing repeated versions of England’s unofficial anthem Jerusalem around the piano and attending more bake sales, they would spend their time raising enough money to buy a new sofa in the visitor’s lounge of the hospital where John passed away.... the ladies of the W.I. approached the fund-raising event in a unique way – they all posed nude for the 1999 calendar. There would still be shots of everyone knitting, painting and doing the gardening; it’s just that they’d be naked while doing it....The play, written by Tim Firth, is not so much a re-telling of the actual event but an adaptation of the 2003 film. In order to create conflicts that never really happened, John Baker became John Clark, all the names of the ladies were changed, plus most of the issues the women had to overcome with the W.I. and each other never occurred. In fact, in reality, there was never a great deal of conflict.... moments of warm comedy, conflict and the occasional moment of tension that buoys events and keeps everything happily afloat....
The play gives the opportunity for some very talented women to work together, and here in Calendar Girls, Phoenix Theatre has assembled a terrific ensemble. ...Like the movie, most of the laughs are gentle rather than laugh-out-loud, but some things come across funnier on stage than on film, particularly the actual photo-shoot ...With respect to the accents, director Moe has bravely insisted on not only having her characters speak with English voices but English voices with a difficult northern, Yorkshire accent....Here the results are mixed at best..." -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)

"The 2003 British comedy film Calendar Girls was a big hit at the box office. Based on the true story of a group of women in Northern England who seductively pose for a nude calendar to raise funds for Leukemia Research, the movie was adapted into a play and Phoenix Theatre presents the Arizona premiere with a superb cast of some of the top actresses in the Valley....... there is minimal drama beyond Chris' butting heads with Marie and some minor confrontations and misunderstandings among the women. And, while the comical moments work best, the dramatic ones lose a little impact without the benefits of film close-ups. Fortunately, Phoenix Theatre's cast is top drawer featuring the cream of the crop of the Valley's "mature" actresses, plus a stellar turn by newcomer to the area Elyse Wolf, who plays Chris. Wolf and Shari Watts, as Annie, form a realistic pair of best friends. Wolf has great comedic timing while Watts gives a lovely, assured delivery in the sensitive moments of the play. Johanna Carlisle, Patti Davis, Cathy Dresbach, and Debra K. Stevens round out the main female roles, with each delivering well thought out characters with some depth, even though the script doesn't always give them much to play off of...Director EE Moe achieves a fast-paced production and derives well balanced performances from her entire cast, letting the comedy shine bright but not overstepping the emotion at the core of the story. The nude scenes are discreetly staged but also delivered with hilarious results....While the theatrical version of Calendar Girls adds very little to the joys of the film, it does result, like the movie, in a heartwarming and moving affair. And seeing some of the best actresses in town having a field day, baring both their hearts and their bodies, is a joyous enough reason to pay them a visit."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"...The very British comedy, “Calendar Girls”...the draggy play fails to provide the cast with roles of substance or dimension....Why Phoenix Theatre mounted this play about English prudery where the British dry humor fails to illicit much laughter is a mystery......The story plods on for two-and-a-half hours trying to make its shallow and predictable point.  Moe’s pedestrian staging doesn’t give the play much spunk further negating the confusing selection. Even though the performers British accents come and go, the cast works its extensive acting chops off trying to give these pitiable characters meaning but even these talented players can’t do the impossible.  ...“Calendar Girls” is a minor diversion but the production isn’t very British and it isn’t very funny." --Chris Curcio, KBAQ (click here to read the complete review)

"Phoenix Theatre's production of "Calendar Girls" last night was the kind of warm, fuzzy, tittering show that can ease the stresses of the outside world and calm anxieties of the unknown within. With a well-known, excellent Valley cast of strong women--strong actors all, they were out to triumph over a loose script as well as their characters' central conflicts. They were also, notably, out of their knickers and bras.....The script is not tight....the relationships don't flow seamlessly. The unhinged and halting nature affects the flow of Calendar Girls' first act particularly. Until we've glimpsed enough of each character's struggles, we don't appreciate that those beautiful flaws are what draws us to them and makes us love them....D. Scott Withers...was the perfect husband, friend and terminal cancer patient as John... well-revered Shari Watts as Annie and impressive if new Elyse Wolf as Annie's best friend Chris...Annie's intimate moments with John were far more raw and naked than any upcoming nude photo of her would be. ...Wolf as Chris had different internal conflicts to wrestle while she outwardly cheerled the group's stripping efforts...From the perspective of dramatic tension and arc, "Calendar Girls" may be lacking. But these ladies and their portrayals were honest and true to life. Brimming with accomplished talent and solid name recognition, Phoenix Theatre presented a properly worthy performance of gradually exposed, modern day, American calendar girls." Jennifer Haaland, The Examiner.com (click here to read the complete review)

"Local theater royalty hold court in the veddy, veddy English comedy “Calendar Girls” at Phoenix Theatre. ...the drama here is light as a feather. ...The cast features some of the Valley’s best-known actresses... newcomer Elyse Wolf makes an impressive Phoenix Theatre debut...Some of the accents are tad less convincing than the other..feel-good fun, and this talented cast delivers." Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

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