OK, then how to evaluate it?
Women? Two thumbs up! Five stars! Must see!
But this show? Dismal.
Give credit to the boomers for bringing the change of life, among so many things, into plain sight and public discussion. Perform Google experiments of your choice –“menopause TV,” “menopause information,” “menopause support,” “menopause humor,” etc. — and watch the hits stack up.
But given how out of the closet menopause is, does femalekind really need this oldies jukebox musical with pointed, rewritten lyrics to liberate themselves from the straw man of society’s ostensible strictures? Maybe it’s the crowd I hang with, but I hear women referring to their hot flashes, temperamental bladders, insomnia, roller-coaster libidos, slowed metabolism, depression, and so on fairly often, if not hourly. And I’m a guy! I can only assume that the talk goes deeper still in the hallowed bastions of same-sex locker rooms. And I hope, for women’s sake, that it’s more entertaining than the prostate and pulled-ham discussions in ours.
So if the show’s activist premise is hyped, can’t we at least celebrate the wisdom that comes along with the midlife symptoms? Indeed, as empowerment rally for the graying distaff, Menopause, I’ll grant you, is something of an event. Where else does a production end with a menopausal “kick line” of dancers drawn from the audience? And if it’s an evening of forced, upbeat, you-go-girl whooping and hollering you’re after, then perhaps this is the place for you.
But if you’re looking for any real flashes of insight to go along with those hot flashes, your search must continue-if not in the warmth of friendship, or the self-help section at B&N, then, heck, in a Lifetime movie, which will look like Shakespeare next to this drivel.
Not only do we have its creator denying that the evening is theater. (Strange — it’s in a theater, they’re charging theater-like prices for tickets. What am I missing?) We also have protagonists who are not just caricatures, but named by their caricature: Professional Woman, Soap Star, Earth Mother, Iowa Housewife. It would be a red flag to see characters described this way, bare bones, in a script. But when those are actually their names, you can be certain that anything remotely approaching characterization is just not in the cards.
Well, if we’re stuck with caricatures, at least there’s a workable premise, right? Er, no. I’m not a fetishist for Strindbergian naturalism or anything, but what gives? Four strangers at Bloomingdales in New York City one minute fighting over a bra, the next lunching together, then having a de facto pajama party in the lingerie department?
I know. I know. It’s the tunes, stupid. The ensemble disco-grooving to “Staying Awake” in lieu of “Staying Alive”; “I Wish We All Could Be Sane and Normal Girls” instead of “California Girls”; “Looking for Food in Too Many Places” instead of … You get the idea.
They’re fairly clever. I mean, a road trip with Linders, listening to the oldies station, must be something of a hoot. But for the most part the subbed lyrics never rise to the heights of an esteemed lyric bender like, say, Weird Al Yankovic. There are a few fun ones: “My personal summer is really a bummer” sings Stacy Schwartz as Soap Star, in approximately the 4,000th hot-flash reference. But most are kind of forced: “Lost in one of those menopause traps, pretending there’s no brain collapse”; or “I don’t know where it might end. I turn to a milkshake, and call it friend.” Hmm. “Good Vibrations,” as orgasmically rendered by Iowa Housewife Monica Lijewski into a phallic pink prop mic is a pretty good time. But the song, in its original, with its “excitations,” wasn’t exactly subtly coded.
Even a musical called Menopause should flow, but the transitions here are clunky, to say the least, as is the bare-bones dialogue, which rates sitcom first draft at its best. “I know I’ve changed a lot with this whole changing process. I mean I’m much more pushy when I’m not crying,” says Lijewski. The fairly contextless double entendres are about as nuanced as a push-up bra: “The last personal trainer I had, I had,” coos Schwartz; or “I’m gonna need a long, tall drink of water. And a beverage would be nice too,” vamps Yolonda Williams as Professional Woman.
Schwartz, Lijewski, Williams, and Barbara Pinolini as Earth Mother all have bright, perky stage presences, and maybe they can act, but you won’t find out in the mincing and preening of this show. Their singing to the pre-recorded, mechanical score laid down by keyboardist Michael Dubay, drummer Don Meoli, and Jonathan Rem is adequate, but, with the sometime exception of Williams, not much beyond that. Patty Bender’s choreography is similarly perfunctory in its American Bandstand takeoffs.
Bud Clark’s set depicting the department store entrance and elevator doors is handsome, and Sue Hill’s costumes are snappy, particularly when the women have an outbreak of Cher and Tina Turner impersonations. And there are a few amusing sequences: Pinolini’s midlife optical challenges when reading a menu, for instance, and Lijewski’s soul-searching, fabric-stretching tentative encounter with a stringy, sheer body suit in the lingerie department. But even those are drawn out too long, and overall, director Michael Larsen’s pacing is stop and go, almost painful when he’s milking the audience’s good will. Also irritating is Talon Jones’s over-amped sound — particularly when the ladies are bellowing into their lapel mics from the backstage “toilets” and whatnot.
Whatever else women and the partners who love them have discovered by midlife or after, they’ve presumably developed some formidable time-management skills. Surely there’s something more valuable they could be doing with this hour and a half.
Menopause: The Musical
Book and lyrics by Jeanie Linders
Directed by Michael Larsen
Produced by The Bethesda Theatre
Reviewed by Alexander C. Kafka
For Details, Directions and Tickets, click here.