Sunday, May 09, 2004

Menopause (14th Street Theatre)

Clevelands have a better 'MENOPAUSE' than the Big Apple

“Seeking -- Iowa Housewife: mezzo, must be able to sing D below middle C to a high A. General information: Women should be over 42 and size 12-plus. Choreography is not difficult but they need women who can move well.” That definitely is not the traditional casting call for a Broadway musical. But, ‘MENOPAUSE, THE MUSICAL” is not a traditional show. There are no chorus cuties. There are no prancing guys. There is just a lot of fun, good singing, and an audience who knows from experience what it’s all about.

I’ve gone through menopause three times. In my home where my wife kept turning on the air conditioning during the winter and shedding clothing quicker than Gypsy Rose Lee. I also experienced it in New York with the original cast of the musical. But, sorry dear, undoubtedly, my best encounter with the “change” was at Cleveland Playhouse Square’s new venue, the 14th Street Theatre.

‘MENOPAUSE THE MUSICAL’ is a musical parody about the meeting of four women at a lingerie sale at Bloomingdale's. The four are a power professional, an aging soap opera star, an Iowa housewife, and a lost-in-the-sixties ex-hippie.

The quartet sings twenty-eight "re-lyricked" songs from the '60s and '70s which comprise the score, including "I Heard It Through the Grapevine, You'll No Longer See 39" and "Stayin' Awake, Stayin; Awake."

According to the show’s author Jeanie Linders she was inspired by "a hot flash and a bottle of wine." She contends the show is a celebration of a passage that launches women into an exciting new phase of their lives. "Most women know intuitively that every other woman is experiencing memory loss, night sweats or hot flashes," states Linders. "But when they are in a theater of 400 women – not just a few friends who are sympathetic by nature – and all 400 are laughing and shouting ‘That’s me!’ then they KNOW that what they are experiencing is normal. They aren’t crazy. It becomes a ‘sisterhood.’"

The Cleveland cast is wonderful. They work together well, obviously a labor of love. As the power woman, Tina Stump wails and shakes her “bootie” to the screams of the audience. June Lange, as the Earthmother (you’ll remember her as the widowed mother in the long running ‘TONY & TINA’S WEDDING)’ quickly became the audience favorite. The lovely and talented Maryann Nagel portrays the Soap Star with her usual dramatic flair and powerful voice. Dyan Beder doesn’t quite reach the heights of the others, but is so full of charm and enthusiasm that she blends in well.

The 90-minute show, which is performed without an intermission, contains take-offs filled with double entendres of such hits as ‘Chain of Fools,” “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” “Puff, the Magic Dragon” (which becomes “Puff, My God, I’m Drag ‘in”), “Lookin’ For Love in All the Wrong Places” and “Stayin’ Alive.”

The show climaxes (excuse the pun) with the audience being invited on stage to share the “experience.” Many of them do!

According to the producers, the show’s few glitches are being taken care of. The band is being toned down. At times it was impossible to hear the clever words over the overly loud pounding beat of the musicians. The miking and speakers are being adjusted. And the order of the song titles in the program are being relisted as audience members were complaining that they wanted to know what song was being sung and the random title arrangement didn’t help.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: It’s a “Sign of the Times” that I developed a “New Attitude,” while getting “Good Vibrations“ from the wonderful cast. Pick up your fans, pop your pills, grab a bunch of your friends (even men will do) and strut your way downtown to see this hysterically funny, well done show. The production is in an open run and deserves to be held over and over and over!