note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi
Power Woman … Avery Sommers / Wydetta Carter*
Soap Star … Kathy St. George
Earth Mother … Mary Callanan
Iowa Housewife … Adrienne Cote
(* = opening night performance)
Piano; Keyboard; Conductor … Catherine Stornetta
Drums … Mark Nathanson
Bass Guitar … James Bettincourt
There are evenings in the theatre when I’ll scribble next to nothing because I’ll be having fun; my pen put aside so I may applaud, instead. MENOPAUSE THE MUSICAL was one of those happy evenings: Jeanie Linders’ celebration of a turning point in every woman’s life is now playing in Boston alongside numerous productions elsewhere and it is as wise and warm as it is hilarious. The plot is minimal: four middle-aged women from different walks of life meet during a sale at Bloomingdales and compare notes on their all going through “the change”; they voice their thoughts through familiar pop and disco standards revamped with Ms. Linders’ clever lyrics and the results are often delightful; occasionally brilliant. Women will love MENOPAUSE THE MUSICAL --- at the two performances I attended (yes; two), the packed houses rocked with female laughter; the open, hearty laughter of recognition --- and a man needn’t feel he has been dragged along to Girls’ Night Out: he can enjoy the still-toe tapping tunes and gain insights into what women must endure when their biological clocks begin to ring; if he can turn to a woman --- any woman --- and say, “I never knew women have to go through all that,” then Ms. Linders has scored as an educator as well as an entertainer. MENOPAUSE THE MUSICAL is well-constructed fluff --- it cheerily stays on its revue-like surface --- but thinking about the show afterwards, I conclude that Ms. Linders has conceived a song-cycle for four voices: there is a progression --- through Bloomingdales as well as the various phases of menopause --- that culminates in a life-affirming finale where the women appear, newly hatched, in black sequined outfits; they have survived the change and are in control of their own bodies, at last --- and all in one afternoon! (I suppose the male equivalent would be something like IMPOTENCE THE MUSICAL, where four men wail “She can’t get no satisfaction / Though I try / And I try / And I try / And I try” and “go running helter-skelter / for their Father’s Little Helper / and no longer feel ashamed / since the day Viagra came” --- what sort of eye-poking finale would THEY have?)
Mary Callanan, Adrienne Cote, Avery Sommers and Kathy St. George make up a merry quartet of all shapes and sizes; each has her own unique beauty, can tackle various singing styles, moves well and --- no small feat, when you think about it --- doesn’t sing the songs’ original lyrics by mistake. They all have multiple moments to shine, especially Ms. Callanan’s mood-swings between Aquarian Child and killer shark; Ms. Cote’s battle with undersized lingerie and her crooning to a microphone vibrator; Ms. Sommers’ stunning turn as a well-known pop diva; and Ms. St. George making audience contact with her “Heat Wave” reprise, her familiar perkiness giving way to a sexy worldliness (if you heard her rendition of “Hot Coffee” in the Stoneham’s PETE ‘N’ KEELY, you’ll know what I mean); Wydetta Carter, from the Chicago production, filled in for Ms. Sommers on opening night and simply blew me away with her rafter-shaking vocals and in-charge comedy.
Co-directors Patty Bender and Kathryn Conte keep the action as crisp and colorful as a well-stocked salad bar; Ms. Bender’s in-sync choreography proves that dance spoofs are far funnier when performed seriously within a counterpointing context; and Bud Clark Theme Design has come up with an Art Nouveau Bloomingdales glowing in hothouse colors. I am ever going on about the compatibility between certain shows and certain theatres: here, the Stuart Street Playhouse is the perfect environment for MENOPAUSE THE MUSICAL, being large enough to contain a good-sized musical yet small enough for intimate cabaret; with Ms. Linders’ celebration falling somewhere in between, the match is just right.