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Strike a pose

The eminently charming Calendar Girls is a winning start to Tacoma Little Theatre’s 101st season

Calendar Girls centers around a group of women stepping out of their comfort zone for the greater good. Photo credit: Dennis K Photography

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Calendar Girls, the opener for Tacoma Little Theatre's 101st season, is powered purely by charm and the winsome performances of its actors. This is effervescent entertainment, imbued with a good amount of pluck and heart, and oddly enough, the only time it slows down is when conflict is introduced.

The 2003 movie upon which this production is based, falls into the same loose category of endearing, character-focused, crossover British hits from the late ‘90s and early ‘00s as classics like Waking Ned Devine and The Full Monty. When the similarly themed The Full Monty was adapted to the stage, its source material's English roots were transplanted to blue-collar America. Calendar Girls wisely hangs onto its decidedly British setting, though that decision is likely due to the fact that it's inspired by a true story.

Calendar Girls centers around a group of middle-aged women who have spent years helping the Women's Institute raise money for charity, largely through calendars of stuffy subjects like flowers and Christmas displays. After Annie's (Dayna Childs) husband John (W. Scott Pinkston) is diagnosed with leukemia, the group decides to raise some money for cancer research. For this calendar, though, photos of pretty meadows just won't do; Annie's best friend, the adventurous Chris (Shannon Mahan), has the bright idea for the women to strip to the buff for a nude pictorial. From there, it's just a matter of convincing the rest of the women to show some skin, and to somehow get the stodgy board of the Women's Institute onboard.

This being an ensemble show, it's important to have a cast that believably gels together as friends and partners, and director Vicki Webb has assembled a comedically gifted group of performers: in addition to Childs and Mahan, the calendar girls include Karen Christensen, Sharry O'Hare, Carrie Sleeper-Bowers, and Dawn Brazel. Pinkston generates a lot of sympathy in his few scenes, and Tristin Nelson is very funny as the photographer that gets roped into this scheme. The heart of the show lies in the relationship between Childs and Mahan, though, and they nail the sort of friendship that can exist between someone who's more of a realist and someone who's an ambitious dreamer.

It's this friendship that gets tested in the second act, which is where that dreaded conflict arises. At the risk of giving anything away, Calendar Girls unfortunately spends some time adrift in the time-honored cliché of someone losing sight of what's truly important, seduced away by the promise of fame. Maybe Calendar Girls would be dramatically inert without some kind of greater obstacle standing in the way of these women, but I also think the story would work perfectly well as a simple study of characters doing something for the greater good while also challenging their own personal boundaries.

As it is, this element is just a slight hiccup in what is otherwise a funny, heartwarming, and perfectly crowd-pleasing show. Calendar Girls gets Tacoma Little Theatre's 101st season off to a winning start.

Calendar Girls, 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sept. 29, $20-$25, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma, 253.272.2281,

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