Change of Fools
The very best thing about Menopause: The Musical is that it eventually ends. Although not soon enough. After what seems like days, the off-key warbling and flatfooted dance numbers -- and therefore the misery of any discerning audience member -- finally stumble to a close. But not before we endure the torment of Jeanie Linders' book and lyrics and the listless efforts of the largely untalented cast.
Menopause is already cute as heck even before the curtain goes up. The pre-show music blares campy '70s disco like "YMCA" and "I Love the Nightlife," and the program is stuffed with menopause propaganda -- "fun" quizzes about perspiration and menstrual cramps, sing-along lyric sheets, and lots of other inserts that scream, "Cheesy musical! Run for the nearest exit!"
I stayed, and I'm still paying the price -- awakening weeks later from dreams in which KatiBelle Collins is hollering the mangled lyrics to "Puff the Magic Dragon" while pelting me with maxi-pads. Menopause inspires nightmares because it's downright dreadful. Imagine a Junior League fund raiser starring gals who've never appeared onstage before, and have knocked back a couple boilermakers to get their nerve up before hitting the footlights. It's a show aimed at middle-aged housewives who think vibrator jokes are funny, one that's designed to make them feel better about their expanding waistlines and apparently dreary descent into old age.
Pigeonholing "the change" as an amusing plight is almost as offensive as this show's gimmick, which is to rewrite the words to popular tunes to make them all about menstruation and other womanly topics. Thus, "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)" becomes "It's On My Hips," an ode to weight gain ("If you want to know/Where fat grams go/It's on my hips") and "My Guy" becomes "My Thighs" ("I'll tell you from the heart/They're never far apart/They're my thighs"). No dopey pop song is sacred, and none of them is improved upon, either. "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" becomes a cornball complaint about a lack of sexual congress that goes, "In the guest room/Or on the sofa/My husband sleeps at night" while a chorus chants, "She's a bitch, she's a bitch, she's a bitch . . ." There's a hugely unfunny medley of songs about women perspiring, and an homage to psychotropic drugs sung to the tune of the Beach Boys' "California Girls" that includes the refrain "I wish we all could be sane and normal girls."
It's all meant to be very amusing and a little naughty -- or what passes for naughty among American gals of a certain age, anyhow. There's a spoof of "Good Vibrations" about battery-operated dildos, and a version of Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do With It?" extolling the joys of masturbation. Whether they're about hot flashes or diddling oneself, though, the new lyrics are always hokey and unfunny. I started out feeling bad for the women whose songs are spoofed here (imagine feeling bad for Lulu and you'll know the depths of my discomfort) but ended up just feeling bad in general, a mood that was fully enhanced by the God-awful musical accompaniment. Alan J. Plado's three-piece ensemble, visible through a scrim onstage, plods its way through C.T. Hollis' arrangements with all the energy of a high school jazz band on a bender.
Linders' book isn't much better. The four women here are apparent archetypes of womanhood named Earth Mother, Power Woman, Soap Star and Iowa Housewife. At one point, one character asks another, "Do you think it's the hormones?" to which her pal replies, "Moaning whores? What?" This is the height of comedy á la Menopause.
Cathy Dresbach is slumming as a soap opera actress obsessed with her age. She wears a bemused expression throughout, and appears to be thinking, "Look at the size of this crowd. This thing is never going to close. Ever. I'm trapped here." Evelyn Brown-Gray's big gospel-tinged voice is wasted, though she's a trouper, doing her best to follow the flatulent tooting of Plado's synthesizer. As the Iowa Housewife, M. Lynne Wieneke performs with all the style of an errant audience member who's wandered onstage. And KatiBelle Collins is amazingly awful as Earth Mother, an ex-hippie who, despite an inability to sing or dance, has more solos than the others.
Even those cast members who can carry a tune are left to flounder, thanks to Patty Bender's inexcusably mundane choreography. Her banal kick-ball-changes and first-year cheer squad routines are so tedious, I found myself dreading the instrumental bridge in the show's two dozen songs, because each was filled up with the monotony of Bender's step-step-step-kick nonsense. I'd need a lifetime to catalogue the transgressions of director Kathryn Conte, whose idea of clever is having her cast members don fake fur vests and Cher wigs to slaughter "I Got You, Babe." Enough said.
Still, the audience for this show -- women over 30 and any male they can coerce into attending -- is rather vast, and the colossal crowd present on the night I saw Menopause was lapping up every terrible minute (although I spotted two men napping). The woman seated on my left nearly hemorrhaged with glee throughout, and provided a blow-by-blow description ("Oh, looky, the one in the blue dress is playing air guitar!") of the show to her equally delirious companion. Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, she and the rest of the audience were invited up onstage for a finale celebrating the death of their reproductive organs, which involved an endless kick line nearly as tiresome as everything that had come before.
My neighbor, the one who'd chattered happily all through the show, stopped me on the way out and chastised me for not having had a better time. "You would have laughed a lot more if you'd have been born a woman," she assured me. She could not have been more mistaken.
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