There are likeable and funny moments in Menopause the Musical, which opened Tuesday night at Shea’s 710 Main Theatre. The art deco set with its four doors that double as rest room stalls and changing rooms at Bloomingdales in New York City is beautifully done. Some of the jokes are funny. And Donna J. Huntley as Professional Woman has a spectacular voice and a great stage presence. Her Tina Turner turn is terrific. She is the highlight of the evening, and she should be in a much better show. Although I am glad she is in this one because she was a bright light in an otherwise mostly dull evening.
The audience would disagree with me, I think. Not about Ms. Huntley, but about the dullness. The almost full house was packed primarily with women who laughed a lot and seemed to be enjoying themselves, although I did see a few here and there who were not amused. There were a half dozen or so men scattered around, several of whom I overheard confiding that they had only come because their wives insisted. The man who had the lap dance later in the show was the first to stand up and cheer at the end of the show.
The premise is that four menopausal women who are strangers are all shopping at Bloomingdales. They begin to talk and discover that they are all going through menopause. The way they do that is by fighting over a lacy bra on sale, trying to grab it from each other. In addition to Professional Woman, there is Soap Star, Earth Mother, and Iowa Housewife. Each is meant to represent an aspect of modern women, but are in reality clichés of clichés of each type. As they go from floor to floor, they sing and dance about the horrors of menopause to the tunes of popular music, mostly from the '50s and '60s, although there’s an Irving Berlin number in there, too.
The book and lyrics are by Jeanie Linders. She uses the music from more than a dozen popular songs and adds her own lyrics about hot flashes, insomnia, night sweats, memory glitches, vaginal dryness, flabby skin, wrinkles, and partners who no longer want sex. For example, Stayin’ Alive becomes Stayin’ Awake, My Guy becomes My Thighs, Good Vibrations becomes – well, you can guess. Obviously, she has permission to do this from whoever owns the music, or the show could not have run in Las Vegas for years and continued on the road. I wonder what Mr. Berlin would think of his Heat Wave becoming Hot Flash.
There is not much that is original in the show, including the music, which is canned. I remember Rhoda in the Mary Tyler Moore Show saying that she should just attach the chocolate she was eating directly to her thighs, and we have all heard versions of this since then. That was in the '80s. So, when Iowa Housewife says the same thing about chicken vindaloo – meh.
Soap Star’s (Beth Buczkowski) imitation of Marilyn Monroe singing Heat Wave has more in common with a pole dancer at the Bada Bing , and I found it painful to watch. People should be very careful about trying to imitate Marilyn’s moves. It can turn on them very quickly, as it did in this instance. Although, again, the man who received her lap dance was the first to stand up and cheer at the end of the evening. Really. I watched him.
Megan Cavanagh as Earth Mother is a good comic actress and has some very good moments, as when she is trying to read the menu in the café. She rises above the material, and lets us laugh at her and at ourselves in an irreverent but not mean-spirited way. For me, there were not nearly enough of those moments.
In the opening scene, when the women fight over the bra on sale, they put the fight down to “the change.” You know, “Change, change, change, change of life.” It made me cringe, cringe, cringe. I felt that way quite a bit throughout the evening. The women talk of losing their looks. Really? According to whom? Although the show attempts to satirize menopause, it seems to me that what it is actually doing is buying in to the idea that women become less attractive, are less reliable, and have less to offer when they are no longer young. Have we not had enough of that?
There are a few songs that speak to women’s strength and beauty at any age, but they are few and far between after lengthy jokes and negative, supposedly humorous, commentary about older women. Those songs seem to have been thrown in – wink, wink – to show the audience that the producers and writer didn’t really mean all that stuff about crazy menopausal women after all.
Menopause the Musical is not my cup of tea, but it may be yours. It certainly was the majority of the audience’s and the people who were buying t-shirts and other memorabilia after the show on Opening Night.
Menopause - The Musical
(ends Oct 15th)