Theater & dance

Stages

In ‘Calendar Girls,’ they’re undressed for success

From left: Kathy St. George, Bobbie Steinbach, Kerry Dowling, Karen MacDonald, Maureen Brennan, and Sarah deLima.
Maggie Hall Photography
From left: Kathy St. George, Bobbie Steinbach, Kerry Dowling, Karen MacDonald, Maureen Brennan, and Sarah deLima.

The cast of Greater Boston Stage Company’s production of “Calendar Girls” reads like a who’s who of some of Boston’s best actresses: Maureen Brennan, Sarah deLima, Kerry Dowling, Karen MacDonald, Cheryl McMahon, Bobbie Steinbach, and Kathy St. George, as well as Nancy E. Carroll, who is directing.

“Auditioning for this show was irresistible,” says deLima, “because it celebrates women’s friendships. These women enjoy each other’s company, get on each other’s nerves, and care deeply for one another. They are ordinary people doing something extraordinary.”

“Calendar Girls” is based on the true story of a group of women from Yorkshire, England, who want to raise money to honor the memory of one of the women’s husbands, who died from leukemia. When they come up with the idea of discreetly posing nude for a calendar, the idea takes off, the calendar becomes a huge hit, and the friends must adjust to their newfound fame.

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The show runs at the theater in Stoneham through June 17.

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“I love true stories,” says Carroll. “What’s wonderful about these women is that they were trying to do something small, just raise enough money to buy a new sofa for the hospital, and it captured the world’s imagination.”

As director, Carroll says her job is to create an environment where the actors feel safe, not only to explore these characters but to prepare for the scenes when the women pose for the calendar. Although the photographer, played by Nael Nacer, sees the women naked, the audience will only see the parts of their bodies not concealed by props. “This story speaks to what women think about their bodies all the time,” says Steinbach. “I’m going to do it, but it’s still scary.”

Just like the women in Yorkshire, Carroll says no one wanted to go first, but as Cheryl McMahon describes it, “courage became contagious.”

MacDonald says actors always play their characters as real people, whether they are fictional or not.

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“I think what makes these women so compelling is the way we understand how they stepped out of comfortable, ordinary lives,” she says. “They came up with a solution to a simple problem, but it required them to incredibly brave.”

“The power of the story,” says Dowling, “and why we all wanted to be a part of it, is its honesty.”

In keeping with the original Calendar Girls’ goal, the cast members will invite audiences to donate to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Paige Davis is in a good space

Paige Davis may be best known as the host of TLC’s “Trading Spaces,” but the effervescent redecorating guide is also a musical theater star. Davis, who is taking on the title role in “Mame” at the North Shore Music Theatre June 5-17 (tickets at www.nsmt.org), has starred on Broadway in “Chicago” and “Boeing-Boeing,” played the title role in the national tour of “Sweet Charity,” as well as Babette in “Beauty and the Beast” and God in a production of “Act of God” directed by Marsha Mason.

“I wasn’t familiar with ‘Mame,’” Davis says over the phone from her home in New York, “but when I read it, I thought, ‘I am Mame.’”

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The Jerry Herman musical, with book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, follows the irrepressible Mame Dennis, who raises her orphaned nephew with a lust for life and all its adventures. Based on the novel by Patrick Dennis, the musical features the songs “Open a New Window,” “We Need a Little Christmas,” and “Bosom Buddies,” among others.

“Like Mame, I live life to the fullest,” Davis says. “All the parties are at my house. When my husband was in the cast of the Deaf West production of ‘Spring Awakening,’ he invited everyone to our one-bedroom apartment for Christmas Eve dinner. We fed 26 people and it was wonderful.”

But the role also follows a woman who experiences an equal amount of joy and sadness, she says, with scenes and songs that have a lot of depth and feeling.

“Mame’s 11 o’clock number, ‘If He Walked Into My Life,’ is so layered and lovely,” she says. “For an actor, the character provides so much to work with.”

Davis says she’s been fortunate to work on a variety of projects, including musicals, plays, film, and, of course, “Trading Spaces,” the series that features two sets of neighbors who redecorate one room in each other’s homes over two days on a budget of $2,000, with the help of the show’s designers and carpenters. Davis hosted the show from 2001 to 2008, and joined the reboot of the series this year.

“I’m very proud of ‘Trading Spaces,’” Davis says. “There really is no script and the neighbors do the bulk of the work. I love the fact that these people take a risk and move out of their comfort zones to do something fun for their neighbors.”

On the show, Davis sets the upbeat tone, so that even on the rare segments when the makeover doesn’t meet expectations, she helps the participants find the positive in the experience.

“I try to lead by example,” she says. “The main thing is for people to have a great time.”

That might as well be Mame’s motto.

Guys, dolls, and a new musical

Larry Sousa, who has directed for SpeakEasy Stage Company and Company One Theatre while also teaching at Boston Conservatory at Berklee, is directing and developing a new musical that combines Frank Loesser’s songs with Damon Runyon’s characters called “Another Roll of the Dice.” Loesser and Runyon were the team behind “Guys and Dolls,” with composer Loesser finding just the right musical tone to animate Runyon’s colorful New York City characters. Loesser also wrote the music for “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” “Where’s Charley?,” “The Most Happy Fella,” and “Greenwillow.”

“Another Roll of the Dice” is written by Emmy-winning writer Mark Saltzman (“The Tin Pan Alley Rag,” TV’s “Mrs. Santa Claus”) and follows characters who appeared in some of Runyon’s other stories.

“It’s a kind of companion piece to ‘Guys and Dolls,’” says Sousa, “though we think of it as an accomplice. One of Mark’s secret working titles is ‘More Guys, Other Dolls.’”

Sousa directed a developmental production of “Another Roll of the Dice” last year at Wyoming Theater Festival, and now MFA students at Boston Conservatory are working on the show as it continues to develop. A fully staged workshop production will be presented on the Boston Conservatory mainstage June 7-10 (www.boston
conservatory.berklee.edu,
free but tickets are required) before a world premiere production in San Diego next year.

“The stories center around the Runyon-esque idea about what happens when people cross over to the shady side for love,” says Sousa.

The Loesser estate offered Saltzman the use of any song of his that hasn’t already been in a musical. In addition to his Broadway shows, Loesser also wrote the chestnuts “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” “Inchworm,” “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” among others, and the lyrics to “Two Sleepy People” and “Heart and Soul.”

CALENDAR GIRLS

At Greater Boston Stage Company, Stoneham, through June 17. Tickets: $40-$55, 781-279-2200, www.greaterbostonstage.org

Terry Byrne can be reached at trbyrne@aol.com.