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Review: CALENDAR GIRLS at Des Moines Playhouse

This amusing yet reflective production runs through June 19.

Review: CALENDAR GIRLS at Des Moines Playhouse
Mary Bricker as Cora
Debra L. Garner as Jessie
Brooke Guinn as Celia
Melissa Kellar as Ruth
Preshia Paulding as Annie
Jolene Laning as Chris
Photo by Steve Gibbons.

The people in our lives have a significant impact on us, and sometimes we don't know their impact on us until they are gone. How we reflect on them can sometimes lead us to do extraordinary things. "Calendar Girls," which opened on June 3 at Des Moines Playhouse, asks us to reflect on how we remember the people in our lives and what we do to commemorate their memory.

"Calendar Girls" by Time Firth, based on the Miramax motion picture by Juliette Towhidi and Time Firth, shares about a group of women who decide to make a calendar when one of them loses their husband to cancer. Knowing the husband was a joker, they decided to have some fun with the calendar and have nude photos taken of them with themselves cleverly covered up to raise funds for a memorial. Are they going to be able to sell the calendar, and if they do, will it be the success they need for the memorial.

I don't usually talk about the audience in my reviews because the audience is something that changes nightly, but there was something special that happened the night I attended. I hope others have the same experience as well. I was in awe of the support shown for the actors on stage and the women in this story. As the first act closed and the calendar was being made, the audience gave a huge supportive applause. The scene was staged beautifully, and was fun to see how they completed each photo on the calendar.

Part of what makes this show fun is the beautiful set designed by Tom Hansen. One of the challenges of this show is how to take the audience from inside the church to the gardens where the idea is first shared. One of the creative ways this is done is through projections, and the other way is through a back wall that can be folded up and moved to either side of the stage. It allowed for some fun to watch scene changes that felt like they were a natural part of the story. This, along with the fantastic props designed by Jen Green, allowed for most of the moments when the photos were being taken. When you add in the costumes by Jessica Van Essen, and the lighting of Alex Snodgrass, this show becomes an evening you won't soon forget.

As with any show, it wouldn't be a show without the actors on stage who has been brought together under the exceptional direction of Kathy Pingle. As a director, Kathy understands how to find the heart of the story being told on stage. The cast is led by Jolene Laning as Chris, who gets the idea to put the calendar together, and Persia Paulding as Annie, whose husband is the one who the calendar is being made in memory of. The friendship they have been able to build and show on stage pulls the audience into the story. They are joined by Mary Bricker as Cora, Debra L Garner as Jessie, Brooke Guinn as Celia, and Mellissa Keller as Ruth, to make up the six women we see on stage making the calendar. Their support throughout the show makes for a strong ensemble of women whose unique stories genuinely moves the audience to the moments I discussed before. The cast also consists of great performances from Tammy Sposeto as Marie, Karen Andrew as Brenda Hulse and Lady Cravenshire, Jim Benda as John, Charlie Reese as Rod, Jacob Hayworth as Lawrence, Emma Norman as Elaine, and Oliver Thrun as Liam.

Whether you are looking for a reflective evening or a night of laughter, the Des Moines Playhouse production of "Calendar Girls" makes for a great evening of theatre. From its excellent technical elements to the fantastic direction and cast, you will leave reflecting on the people in your life and their impact. Hopefully, you leave thinking about how you honor them, not just when they are gone but while you have them in your lives. "Calendar Gils" continues its run at Des Moines Playhouse through June 19.

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From This Author - DC Felton