"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Friday, January 18, 2008

Theater Review: Menopause: The Musical

Most women wouldn’t exactly find menopause something to sing about… unless they’re singin’ the blues. But writer/producer Jeanie Linders thought there was plenty of humor to wring out of The Change. So, gearing her show to her 38 million Baby Boomer comadres, she took two dozen classic songs from the ‘50s to the ‘80s, and tweaked the lyrics to reflect the Change of Life. And, since it opened in Orlando in 2001, it’s played more than 100 cities in 10 countries. But frankly, I can’t understand why.

Of course, there are plenty of funny things to say about the mood swings, night sweats, wrinkles, weight gain and hot flashes. But this show sounds like a couple of women sat up late one night over a big bottle of something or other, and started riffing on their communal kvetches through familiar songs. And someone thought, Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney-style, ‘Hey Kids! Let’s put on a show!” Actually, that’s pretty much how it happened. The creators openly admit that the musical was “inspired by a hot flash and a bottle of wine.” It feels like a summer camp skit to me.

They’ve got fertile subject matter (pun intended) and some great songs. But the lyrics are so pedestrian and uninspired and repetitive and un-funny, I barely cracked a smile the whole evening. Here are some low-lights: I Heard it through the grapevine.. you no longer will see 39? or the disco fave, Stayin’ Awake, Stayin’ Awake. Then there are some really embarrassing ones like Drippin’ and Droppin’, a Ladies Room lament to the tune of Burt Bacharach’s Wishin’ and Hopin’. The lamest lyric of all, the grand finale, is YMCA, reconceived as the insipid and unimaginative This is Your Day. Ugh.

Admittedly, there are a few cute numbers. Like I’m Havin’ a Hot Flash, instead of We’re Havin’ a Heat Wave; the plastic surgery prayer, Please Make Me Over, and the Wimoweh song, In the guestroom or on the sofa, my husband sleeps tonight.

The rather flimsy setup for all this silliness is the meeting of four very disparate females, with prototype names like Power Woman, Earth Mother, Soap Star and Iowa Housewife, who come together on a one-day shopping spree in Bloomingdale’s, New York. They obviously have similar taste in lingerie as well as music: their first encounter is fighting a sliver of tiny black underwear. Then they run into each other again — in the bathroom, the hair salon and the café – which gives them ample time to commiserate. They sing solos and girl-group doo-wop as they execute rather anemic, lackluster choreography. The three-piece musical backup band is excellent. And so are the songs. But a great deal depends on the performers putting it over.

For the show to work on any level, the talent has to be super-sized and rafter-rattling. These gals, one of whom is a WMU alumna and another a Michigan natives, are good, but they’re not inherently humorous. Yet each had at least one moment in the sun. But none of it justifies the enduring popularity of the show.

The phenom probably says lot about how much women need to share their menopausal misery and know they’re not alone in their suffering. But in defter hands, the endeavor could be so much funnier. And it could actually provide some insight, even a little analytical depth — not just superficial complaints that culminate in a conga line. I found most of the intermissionless evening to be juvenile and silly. But the women all around me were howling. Which left me thinking, I'm just too young to get it.

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