- Four seasoned performers show that life is plenty spicy after menopause.
Everybody enjoys musicals dealing with energetic young people who, fresh off the puberty production line, are on the brink of conquering the world. Those lean, sleek, starry-eyed idealists make shows such as Hair, 42nd Street, and Fame a pleasure to behold. But what about the people in the audience: the nearsighted, overweight, and wrinkled denizens of middle age, who rarely see their own physiological mysteries put into song? Why are there so many musical tributes to "coming of age" and so few to "coming down with age"? Well, Menopause the Musical is out to change that by focusing on four women for whom puberty is but a dim memory. And the show, now at Playhouse Square's 14th Street Theatre, is a hoot.
Featuring a book and lyrics by Jeanie Linders, Menopause is a foot-stomping 90-minute revival meeting for women who've had to deal with The Change -- including hot flashes, night sweats, and vicious hormonal swings -- while also trying to maintain their careers and family relationships. Now, let's face it: Some women sail through their menopausal years with hardly a ripple of disturbance, genetically blessed bitches that they are. But for many others, some of the post-40 years can be quite a trial.
Of course, there's a danger in targeting all of a musical's energies on a single, fairly narrow biological stage, and Menopause is frequently repetitious, even teetering on the brink of tiresome (after all, how many songs about excessively perspiring AARP-eligible women can anyone really tolerate?). Happily, though, the energetic four-person cast and spirited direction by Patty Bender and Kathryn Conte maintain the flow, so to speak, and are likely to keep any men who are dragged along to the performance from screaming, "Shut up about it already!" But all women with a few decades on them -- even those who only use "menopause" as an excuse to get out of going to football games -- will probably get a stiff neck from nodding in agreement and a tender side from all the laughter.
As far as the scant plot is concerned, the four ladies meet at a sale table at Bloomingdale's and proceed to share their change-of-life challenges with each other, building their sisterhood as they rue their gender-specific destiny. Each woman holds down a feminine cultural stereotype: the Power Woman (corporate wheeler-dealer), Soap Star (showbiz diva), Earth Mother (ex-hippie), and Iowa Housewife (Iowa housewife). While their characterizations are partially filtered through the thin gauze of these one-dimensional facades, the women are basically there to deliver the comical songs with passion and a kind of stubborn pride.
Structuring the work more like a Capitol Steps performance than a traditional musical, lyricist Linders has written new words to a parade of mostly '60s pop songs, including "Wishin' and Hopin'," which becomes a hot-flash-inspired "Drippin' and Tricklin'," and a rocking "Chain of Fools" that is flipped into "Change of Life." Linders gets off a number of funny lines inside this format of borrowed melodies, such as in the redo of "Don't Make Me Over," when a plump matron pleadingly croons, "Please make me over/Now that my chin's lost in my neckline." The subject of men also occasionally arises, as in the version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" when a sleep-deprived wife jealously notes, "In the bedroom or on the sofa/My husband sleeps tonight." While there are plenty of predictable gibes and formula jokes ("One day, you look in the mirror and see your mother"), the show never lingers on any moment too long, and soon there's a genuine giggle to replace the clunker.
June Lang uses her expressive, chipmunk-cute face and deft timing to make the Earth Mother consistently appealing and amusing, especially when observing herself, mid-hot-flash, with the line "I'm glowing in the dark: This is a warning!" As the Soap Star, Maryann Nagel is slim, sharp, and pretty sexy as she nails her songs. Tina D. Stump does a mean turn in a spiky wig as Tina Turner, but she bails out on a couple of songs when a rousing, sustained vocal finish would have brought down the house. And playing the somewhat bashful Iowa Housewife, Dyan Beder lacks a precise comedic focus early in the show, but grows stronger after a testy cell-phone talk with her daughter. And her love song "Only You," trilled amorously to her microphone/vibrator, is a blast.
It's worth noting that the net proceeds from this production are being given to the Ireland Cancer Center and McDonald Women's Hospital at University Hospitals. So it might make sense for gal pals of a certain age to pile into the minivan and head down to Playhouse Square. It's a great cause, and where else are you going to hear a version of "My Guy" that goes "Nothing I can do/Fat sticks like glue/To my thighs . . . They're never far apart/ They're my thighs"?