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A CurtainUp Review
Menopause The Musical
If you're a woman of a certain age craving sisterhood and the chance to let loose, you can have a ball at Menopause The Musical, as a group of schoolteachers from Mahwah, N.J., did at the performance I attended. If you belong to any other demographic, you may chuckle a few times during the show but mostly roll your eyes at its hokiness and redundancy.
Let's give credit where it's due: Menopause The Musical was written by a woman and directed by a woman. The stage managers, choreographer, costume designer and sound designer are all women. How many shows can claim such extensive distaff representation behind the scenes? Every musician in the band is female. The entire cast is composed of women. They're not twentysomething, and they're not skinny. So, kudos for the affirmative action.
I also have to mention the response of the audience: howls of laughter (no exaggeration!) from start to finish, a standing ovation, and a rush to the stage when audience members were invited up to dance with the cast during curtain calls. Judging from the enthusiastic comments on the "Be a Critic" cards plastered on the lobby walls, this was not the only performance that elicited such a reaction. Menopause The Musical arrives in New York following a reportedly sold-out nine-month run in Orlando and West Palm Beach. The show even got a front-page story in the features section of USA Today.
Niceties out of the way, I'm now going to sound like a New York theater snob (the producers have acknowledged they were warned we wouldn't respond so warmly). Menopause The Musical is really a sketch stretched out to an hour-and-a-half production. Its parody of pop songs from the '60s and '70s isn't nearly as clever as the audience reaction would have you believe. And the shell of a plot used to frame the musical numbers is feeble.
To illustrate how going through The Change unites all women, Menopause creator Jeanie Linders offers up four diverse characters: Power Woman, Soap Star, Iowa Housewife and Earth Mother. But these personas are used mainly for cheesy punchlines and hackneyed dialogue-the businesswoman bellowing into a cell phone that a contract must be re-faxed; the desperately-clinging-to-her-youth actress boasting of her boy toy; the Midwestern matron informing her urban friends, "We have sex in Iowa!"; the erstwhile hippie reminiscing about burning her bra in the '60s (note to all historians, amateur and professional: feminists never did this). The inclusion of this Earth Mother character-a vegan who hasn't married her partner of 25 years and makes references to "what I remember of the '60s" - -begs the question: What's such an antiestablishmentarian doing trying on diamonds in Bloomingdale's, anyway?
Bloomie's is where these ladies meet and where the entire show takes place. From the jewelry to the lingerie to the cosmetics department, in the bathroom, beauty salon and restaurant, they bond over hot flashes, mood swings, insomnia and other menopausal milestones-all to the tune of baby-boomer ditties. "California Girls" becomes "Wish we all could be sane and normal girls"; "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" is transformed into "In the guest room or on the sofa, my husband sleeps tonigh"t; "Chain of Fools" is "Change of Life"; "Stayin' Alive" is "Stayin' Awake"; and so on.
Linders, who was an advertising executive and event promoter before writing this show, is not above repeating a joke if it fits into more than one song. Thus, we get both "My Thighs" ("My Guy") and "It's on My Thighs" ("It's in His Kiss") when the women lament their weight gain; talk of hot flashes segues to both "Drippin' and Tricklin"' ("Wishin' and Hopin"') and "I'm Flashing" ("I'm Sorry").
If you're noticing the material's lack of sophistication, this will strike you as silly repetition. But if you're just in it for the empowerment and camaraderie, you'll keep on laughing. One of the funniest lyrics: To the tune of the Beach Boys' "Help Me, Rhonda," the cast sings "Thank You, Doctor" for their mood-enhancing medication. Instead of "Rhonda, you caught my eye and I could give you lots of reasons why. . . " they sing, "My doctor prescribed a pill that eliminated my urge to kill. . . ". On the other hand, "I'm Flashing" and "I'm Having a Hot Flash" (to the tune of Irving Berlin's "Heat Wave") aren't funny enough to merit their reprises. Furthermore, some of the songs are devoted to women's issues that aren't unique to menopause -- like chocolate cravings, vibrators and arguing with your mother. And while it's good to see plus-size actresses getting work, it doesn't do them any favors to dress them in a micro-mini a la Tina Turner or have them sing "Puff, My God, I'm Dragging" about working out (which draws attention to the performer's weight more than her age).
The performers are talented, though, and their verve plays a large part in winning over the audience. Most notable is Joy Lynn Matthews, with her brassy presence and powerhouse voice. Carolann Page and Mary Jo McConnell are excellent physical and personality matches for their roles as Iowa Housewife and Soap Star, respectively. Earth Mother Joyce A. Presutti, while not as impressive (she's stuck with the hokiest lines), certainly projects geniality. What's not so likable about this production is the corporate-ization that seems to have drifted over from 42nd Street. Menopause-related books and merchandise are on sale in the lobby, souvenir vendors troll the aisles, and the show is "presented" by Novavax Inc., a pharmaceutical company awaiting FDA approval of its estrogen-replacement-therapy lotion.
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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