Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Menopause The Musical’ good as therapy

Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Menopause The Musical’ good as therapy

A touring production is visiting Appleton

PHOTO: “Menopause The Musical” features a cast of four. Production photo

APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) – “Menopause The Musical” gives new meaning to old songs. It’s a jolly romp through age-old complaints with a familiar ring playing through the mind from the hit tunes. The result is a kind of group therapy that has audiences (a vast majority made up of women) laughing, bobbing with the music and saying, “Yes, they’ve got that right.”

At this point – 13 years after seeing the light of day – “Menopause The Musical” is something of a phenomenon. Various productions have played around the continent and abroad, including a super-long-running version at Las Vegas. A touring edition has a hefty run through Aug. 23 at Kimberly-Clark Theater in the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. Info: www.foxcitiespac.org. A production with a different cast played in 2011 at the Meyer Theatre in Green Bay.

The cast at Appleton has all the necessary attributes. The performers look the parts of four definite characters, more than carry a tune and dance a lick or two. All are long-time pros – delivering the goods over and over in many ways, whether soloing or in the group or by forming a personable bond with the audience.

***

Creative: Book and lyrics – Jeanie Linders; director – Seth Greenleaf; original score – Alan J. Plado; choreography – Daria Lynne Melendez.

Cast: Professional Woman – Donna J. Huntley; Soap Star – Paula Kline Messner; Earth Mother – Ingrid Cole; Iowa Housewife – Dyan Beder.

Songs

“Change, Change, Change” - Professional Woman, Earth Mother

“I Heard It Through the Grapevine” - Professional Woman, Soap Star

“Sign of the Times” - Earth Mother, Iowa Housewife

“Stayin’ Awake”/“Night Sweatin’” - Ensemble

“My Husband Sleeps Tonight” - Earth Mother

“Hot Flash” - Soap Star

“Drippin’ and Droppin’” - Earth Mother

“I’m Flashing” - Professional Woman

“The Great Pretender” - Professional Woman, Iowa Housewife

“Sane and Normal Girls”/“Thank You Doctor” - Ensemble

“Lookin’ for Food” - Soap Star, Iowa Housewife

“Please Make Me Over” - Soap Star

“Beauty’s Only Skin Deep” - Ensemble

“I’m Flashing” (reprise) - Professional Woman

“Puff, My God, I’m Draggin’” - Earth Mother

“The Fat Gram Song” - Professional Woman

“My Thighs” - Iowa Housewife

“Don’t Say Nothing Bad About My Body” - Soap Star

“I’m No Babe, Ma” - Ensemble

“Good Vibrations” - Earth Mother, Soap Star

“What’s Love Got To Do With It?” - Professional Woman

“Only You” - Iowa Housewife

“New Attitude” - Ensemble

“This is Your Day” - Ensemble

***

As a theater piece, “Menopause The Musical” is mishmash. The setup is four women are drawn to a lingerie sale at Bloomingdales department store in New York City. They realize a common bond – going through “the change” – and burst into songs and dances that fit the multitude of menopause experiences that are familiar to women of a certain age and to everyone around them. The “storyline” is a crazy quilt of comical songs.

All the songs are parodies.

Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools,’ with its catchy “chain, chain, chain” line, becomes “Change, Change, Change” with its play on lyrics while still being a bust-out R&B tune as let loose by Donna J. Huntley as Professional Woman.

The long-ago “Heat Wave” – with the line, “We’re having a heat wave, a tropical heat wave” – translates well to “(I’m having a) Hot Flash” sung in sultry fashion by Paula Kline Messner as Soap Star.

Dusty Springfield’s “Wishin’ and Hopin’” is revised as “Drippin’ and Droppin’” with Ingrid Cole as Earth Mother mopping sweat furiously.

From The Platters comes the swooning “Only You,” which retains its title but takes on an entirely new, risqué meaning as Dyan Beder as Iowa Housewife pours out her affection for her new-found BFF. In theatrical terms, this song is one of the show’s multiple climaxes.

The adaptations are by show creator Jeanie Linders, who has a dazzling knack for matching tunes to appropriate situations. One of the best examples is what happens to Sonny and Cher’s “You’ve Got Me Babe.” All the women in the show have just handled a telephone call with their mother – a quirky character each time. The song becomes a comic lament, “I’m No Babe, Ma,” with the look of the singers evolving as the song progresses to take on the ’60s hippie look that includes round dark glasses and a Sonny-like or Cher-like wig.

The set has character. It is made up of four doors with the classic Art Deco look of suave geometric designs. The floor continues the look. Scenes take place on various floors of Bloomingdales, with the doors usually leading to women’s restrooms (complete with tiresome toilet-flushing sounds).

Opening night had a bit of zip from a wardrobe malfunction. The top button on the jacket of the Iowa Housewife popped off fairly early in the show, leaving performer Dyan Beder wondering about potential continual revelations. The show is 90 minutes nonstop, and Dyan Beder managed to get her hands on a brooch (I think) during one of her quick backstage visits and pinned the jacket. Good improvisation.

Not a whole lot is improvised like that in the show. The exception is the close, during which women from the audience are invited to the stage to dance with the cast in the wake of “New Attitude.” The song is one of encouragement, and in a sense is a statement of what has happened in society. Many people speak more freely about many more “forbidden” topics today than back when, and “Menopause The Musical” probably factors into that in a public way.

My online ticket totaled out at $62.90, which at first seemed pricy to me. But seeing the effects of the show again, the group therapy is probably real cheap in the long run. There is a reason “Menopause The Musical” has lasted.

VENUE: The Kimberly-Clark Theater is a hybrid “black box” theater – flexible, focus on the performance space, open ceiling with theatrical and ventilation equipment exposed and little ornamentation (though this theater has color in red curtains, padded red seats and wood elements). Located within the larger Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, the space is 56 feet wide, 75 feet long and 25 feet high. For “Menopause The Musical,” approximately 350 seats are set up on risers; railings wobbled a bit under my hand and made me nervous during my climb. The second level is rimmed by segments of wood paneling, an acoustic touch that adds a visual boost.

THE PEOPLE: Kimberly, Clark and Company was established in 1872 in Neenah, with key figures in the papermaking firm being four businessmen-friends – John A. Kimberly, Havilah Babcock, Charles B. Clark and Frank C. Shattuck. The business has been Kimberly-Clark Co. since 1906. John A. Kimberly, from a poor family in New York state, was an idea guy who took to business at an early age. Charles B. Clark, also from New York, was popular enough to be elected mayor of Neenah and to the U.S. House of Representatives.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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