Midlife: The Crisis Musical’s Jokes Seem a Little Old

The funniest thing I saw the other night at Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre wasn't up on stage, but rather in the men's room. As I stood in the lavatory stall, relinquishing the two gin-and-tonics that had made getting through another cheeseball musical slightly less painful, I noticed a butter knife lying on the floor near my left foot.

I'm sorry. It's just funny. A butter knife on the floor of a public bathroom struck me as hilarious — and this was long after my pre-show cocktails had worn off, too. I mean, what's flatware doing in the men's toilet? And why a butter knife? Was someone frosting cupcakes in there?

Maybe, I thought, this is only comparatively funny, and one has first to sit through another of those two-hour "topical" musicals that have become so popular in the past decade to truly see the humor of silverware in the john. I had just seen Midlife: The Crisis Musical; perhaps listening to people sing about receding hairlines and acid reflux would make anything seem funny.

To be fair, Midlife is about as clever as these themed musicals get. After having seen a slew of them — the one about menopause; the one about dieting; the one about religion — I've decided that disparaging these topical, shopping mall musicals for not being especially insightful is like criticizing a toddler for being clumsy. These revues are meant to provide laughs for a less discerning theater-going audience, folks for whom a song about a prostate exam is the height of hilarity. But who am I? I think misplaced silverware is uproariously funny.

Midlife is better, at least lyrically, than most. There's some witty writing in songs about Lasik surgery and laugh lines and the ennui of a 30th high school class reunion. The staging here is as nice as these dinner theater revues tend to get; I especially liked a hat-and-cane routine about AARP, although I did sort of wonder what a song about retired people is doing in a show about middle age. There's a lot of that here: references to broken hips and hearing aids and adult diapers — none of which is typically relevant to middle age. Authors Bob Walton and Jim Walton must have run out of middle-age jokes and dipped into yuks about being old, rather than about growing older, which I guess means they shot their wad and won't be offering up Old Age: The Musical anytime soon.

The jokes are typical of this genre. One character claims he has been diagnosed with CRS, which stands for Can't Remember Squat. Another tells us he's taken to wearing socks with sandals. It's light stuff, but it doesn't seem sporting to carp too much. Midlife: The Crisis Musical is a show that tells you exactly what to expect in its title, which is among its more thoughtful attributes. Still, in the end, it's hard to make much out of a complaint — "It's a drag getting old!" — even when you set it to music.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela