REVIEW: Make a Date to See the Fearless and Funny ‘Calendar Girls’ at Avon Players

Singer/songwriter Neil Sedaka was right on the money when he sang, “I love, I love, I love my calendar girl.” Or in this case, I loved the opening night of Avon Players’ spirited production of Calendar Girls, running now until Saturday, January 28 in Rochester Hills, MI.

If the name of this play sounds familiar, chances are you may have seen the 2003 movie starring Dames Helen Mirren and Julie Walters. Inspired by real-life events, the action mainly takes place in the quaint village of Knapesley, which is situated in Yorkshire, roughly two hours from London by rail.

The plot centers around six friends, Annie (Lesa Bydalek), Celia (Laura Flores in her Avon Players’ debut), Ruth (Patty Hagel), Chris (Joy Oetjens), Cora (Pamela Plewa), and Jessie (Judy Privasky). For this production, Christiaan Lafata takes his talents behind the scenes with Costume Design & Properties and outfits each character in a specific color palette throughout the show. This not only makes for excellent visual consistency but also adds flair to each character’s personality.

L to R (front): Chris (Joy Oetjens), Annie (Lesa Bydalek) L to R (back): Jessie (Judy Privasky), Cora (Pamela Plewa, Celia (Laura Flores), and Ruth (Patty Hagel) bare nearly all for a good cause in Avon Players’ ‘Calendar Girls.’ Photo credit: Bryan Clifford

Like many women in English villages, these six feisty femmes belong to the Women’s Institute (WI). The WI is a community-based organization that hosts special presentations and parties and raises money for charities. Now, there are some women, such as Marie (Liz Kozek-Hutchinson), Lady Cravenshire (Cece Lesner), and Brenda (Ann Sweet), who fully embrace the WI’s tenets to the point where it becomes their personality and tethered to their social standing within the community. Thankfully, this description does not fit our six ladies.

While caught up in everyday life, Annie’s world comes to a jarring halt when her husband John (Matt Druminski) passes away from cancer. During his illness, Annie and others spend many long hours in the visiting room on an uncomfortable sofa. So, when it comes time for the Yorkshire WI to raise money, Chris decides it should be so they can outfit the room with more suitable seating, and they can raise the money by doing a nude calendar. Nude, not naked. There’s a difference as Chris is constantly pointing out. Naturally, most of the women think she’s out of her mind. But one, by one, she convinces Annie, Celia, Cora, and Jessie to do it for John.

After many, many shots of Dutch courage, the women finally commit to posing for the calendar. Take note: you will see some flesh, but thanks to excellent prop placement, everything is tastefully displayed – or hidden. Depending on your perspective. It is a delight to see each woman embrace her own power and ultimately feel independence from posing. Even Ruth, who originally wanted no part, changes her mind at the last minute and receives some of the biggest laughs. Honoring the memory of John may have been the catalyst for the women agreeing to do the calendar, but over the course of the play, they each realize that by posing they are reclaiming either a dormant or lost piece of themselves.  

Calendar Girls is an exuberant celebration of beauty and friendship. Of challenging societal norms and perceptions of older women by reminding us how strong they are and how much spirit burns within them. These six women hype each other up and it is clear the actresses are enjoying their characters and playing off each other. Particularly, Lesa Bydalek, Joy Oetjens, and Judy Privasky who served up sass and laughs together in Steel Magnolias five years ago.

Annie (left) and Chris (right) show the strength of friendship in ‘Calendar Girls.’

Watching this beautiful display of friendship and grit, I couldn’t help thinking of this past Tuesday when actress Michelle Yeoh, won her first Golden Globe Award at the age of 60 for the film Everything Everywhere All At Once. After 40 years in show business, she’s finally recognized for her worth. Equally beautiful was watching her castmate, Jamie Lee Curtis, unabashedly cheer Yeoh’s win. We could all use more hype women in our lives.   

As word of the calendar spreads, it thrusts the women into the spotlight in a way they aren’t prepared for, and things quickly begin to spiral out of control. Annie and Chris have an emotional exchange over motives. Chris thinks that more exposure will bring in more money, while Annie thinks they have lost sight of their original reason for doing the calendar. They have already achieved their goal, but at what cost? It is a poignant example of what happens when friendship and fame collide.

A recurring theme throughout the play is sunflowers. Before John passes, he shares with Annie why he loves them so much. He tells her every phase of their growth has its own beauty, but the last phase is the most glorious, just like the women of Yorkshire. The flowers will fight no matter what conditions they are faced with, which is such a lesson in life. If you take away anything from Calendar Girls, it should be that women are strong and they have worth no matter what stage of life they are in. Where you are isn’t where you have to stay. Especially, if you’re surrounded by friends who are willing to cheer you on to the next stage.

Kudos to Director Dan Romzek and Producer Lori Smith for exceptional execution of the material and for choosing a cast that hit it out of the park at every level.

Shed your inhibitions and go see Calendar Girls. I guarantee you’ll love every minute of this heartwarming and inspiring story.

This performance runs approximately two hours with a 15-minute intermission.

Tickets for all shows are $25. Call 248-608-9077 for tickets or order online at Discounts on matinee tickets are available for seniors and students; call the box office for details. Additionally, group rates are available by calling the box office. “Like” Avon Players Theatre on Facebook for special offers on tickets. All major credit cards are accepted. All seats are reserved. 

Show dates and times follow:

  • Saturday, January 14          8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, January 15            2:00 p.m.
  • Friday, January 20              8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, January 21          8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, January 22            2:00 p.m.
  • Friday, January 27              8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, January 28          8:00 p.m.
About Sarah Hovis

Freelance wordsmith, arts appreciator, grammar geek, sports spectator, stationery snob, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at

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