There aren’t too many musical comedies that inspire the audiences to a rousing standing ovation at the curtain call, but Monsters, a “Midlife Musical Meltdown,” now playing at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, has been achieving just that. Whether you are approaching mid-life, are long past it, or are now wallowing in its frustrations and challenges, there is enough emotional content here for theatergoers to relate to our protagonist Samantha.
Ably portrayed by former Opera Boston soloist Emily Browder Melville, our heroine has just reached her 40th birthday and confronts her demon monsters as all different types of Apathy, Fear of everything, and imperfect Body image, all played by hilarious (and frightening) singing nags. The last one literally comes out of the closet as a flaming gay man who criticizes every article of clothing poor Samantha owns and every aspect of her not-so-perfect body. Who knew that our personal monsters could be queer eye for the straight guy gay?
Piling on the critical attack is the Mother, played by veteran actress Cheryl McMahon, who originated the role in the premiere production with Centastage at the Boston Center for the Arts in 2006. She cheerfully reminds her beleaguered daughter that she has already lived half her life, and men won’t be lining up for her any more, among many other negative criticisms. She has no words of encouragement when Samantha tells her that she wants to quit her stockbroker job, take a three week vacation in Peru, and start a new life. Apathy asks her, “What’s the point? We’ll eventually die!” and recommends watching television and eating snack foods all day long. Fear reminds Samantha that the World is a fearful place, and doing anything brings great risk of danger. Her angst and hysteria are not assuaged when she is reminded that all brains turn to mush after you turn 40.
In the second act, a winsome Jennifer Fogarty shows up, claiming to be a “trained psychology major” in college, who may or may not be able to help the situation. An interesting twist makes us realize that things are rarely what they seem. The music and songs are a major part of the play, well-integrated within the story. They are witty and melodic, if not cheerful (Everybody’s Got Monsters, What’s the Point?, Be Afraid, All Downhill From Here, and Phobias for example). The voices are all top-notch, and the bits of choreography quite entertaining.
It’s important that we view our frustrations in life from the lighter side from time to time—this production enables us to do just that while having a fun evening as a bonus. The show in Arlington runs through March 10th, but it seems like the kind of entertainment that will have many more incarnations down the road. If you missed the 2012 Arlington version, be sure to look for an upcoming production and treat yourself to a great night of musical theater! —Jon York