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News FLASH: Last Weekend to See the Off-Broadway Hit at the Laguna Playhouse

Ed Rampell: Many of the mostly women theatergoers at the Laguna Playhouse wore tiaras, boas, roared with knowing laughter and approval throughout the 90 minute show, which they gave a standing ovation to, as dozens flooded the stage to dance along with the musical’s talented quartet.
Menopause the Musical

Roberta B. Wall, Megan Cavanagh, Linda Boston and Rebecca Fisher (Photo: Courtesy of LAGUNA PLAYHOUSE )

MENOPAUSE THE MUSICAL Theater Review

Prior to the curtain lifting on this one act show attended almost exclusively by females (mostly of a certain age), as the ladies’ room overflowed with occupants, women surged into the men’s room. I quipped: “Guess this is what America will look like if Hillary wins the White House,” and the bathroom crashers good naturedly laughed.

In fact, for 15 years Jeannie Linders’ Off-Broadway hit has, according to press notes, “celebrat[ed]… female empowerment [as] Menopause the Musical has evolved as a ‘grassroots’ movement of women who deal with life adjustments after 40 by embracing each other and the road ahead.” And indeed, many of the mostly women theatergoers at the Laguna Playhouse wore tiaras, boas, roared with knowing laughter and approval throughout the 90 minute show, which they gave a standing ovation to, as dozens flooded the stage to dance along with the musical’s talented quartet.

Many of the mostly women theatergoers at the Laguna Playhouse wore tiaras, boas, roared with knowing laughter and approval throughout the 90 minute show, which they gave a standing ovation to, as dozens flooded the stage to dance along with the musical’s talented quartet.

These four women meet by chance at Bloomingdale’s, the department store in Manhattan’s fabled “Silk Stocking District,” at a kiosk featuring lingerie - perhaps including amongst Bloomie’s bloomers some actual silk stockings. These older gals (isn’t that an interesting word? methinks it originated as a combination of the words “girl” and “pal”) quickly recognize that they share something in common - aging, and the “change in life” this engenders in members of the female gender - and they bond.

The foursome includes a soap opera actress (Rebecca Fisher), for whom looks are the coin of the realm in her profession. The other three are all plus-size ladies: A professional, career woman (Linda Boston); a ’60s-stereotype called in the playbill “Earth Mother” (Megan Cavanagh); and an “Iowa Housewife” (Roberta B. Wall), who they can’t keep down on the farm and is out on the town in the Big Apple.

In what passes for a plot (and presumably tremendous free advertising for Bloomie’s), the four Musketeers lament about the aging process and menopause in particular on various floors and different departments of Bloomingdale’s - that is, in between hurried excursions to the bathrooms. This musical consists mostly of 20-plus parody songs apparently sung live to canned music (in and out of the can). The lyrics of various pop songs are promiscuously changed to express the femmes’ angst, woes and obsessions.

Many of the lyrics are witty (although Linders, who wrote the book - such that it is - and words sung is no Tom Lehrer, the clown prince of parody songs, as far as I’m concerned). For example, the chorus derived from the Beach Boys’ “California Girls” becomes, as crooned by the ensemble anxious about the wild mood swings brought on by hot flashes, et al: “I wish they all could be sane and normal girls.” This number morphs into a takeoff on the Beach Boys’ “Help Me Rhonda,” with the quartet belting out “Thank You Doctor” for the pills such as Prozac and Paxil their physicians prescribe to them in order to deal with mood disorders (and more).

(The cast refers to the Iowans’ prescription drugs as “mother’s little helpers” and Linders’ here misses a chance to spoof an early Rolling Stones song. Perhaps this is a copyright issue? In any case, as Mick Jagger sang: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” - although, for some odd reason, this has become the signature song closing Trump’s Nuremberg rallies.)

In a lamentation over weight gain Mary Wells’ “My Guy” cleverly becomes “My Thighs.” Men are not men-tioned much in what dialogue there is and in the lyrics; nor is sex per se. But after Iowa Housewife bemoans her husband’s lack of amorous attention, in an ode to masturbation via vibrators, she sings a rousing rendition of - you guessed it - another Beach Boys’ classic, “Good Vibrations.” (Told you they couldn’t keep her down on the farm.)

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Good vibes are spread by this show which, as said, the almost completely female aud ate up alive. Far be it for this male to pass any sort of judgment on the play’s underlying ideology, but Menopause the Musical raised some questions for me about feminism - which, like “discouraging words” in “Home on the Range” is seldom, if ever heard, during the entire musical. In fact, the play focuses on women’s issues as being primarily a bonding over biological imperatives (although the male of the species is likewise subject to other “afflictions” the musical muses upon, such as wrinkles, gaining weight, memory loss, sleep problems and additional “ailments” universal to the aging process for both genders, even if they are accentuated for women during menopause).

In bourgeois society “feminism” has distorted meanings and interpretations. For instance, for the past few years the screen has been littered with “women behaving badly” stories, wherein gals acting as rude as the guys is somehow “women’s liberation” - to wit, see almost any Melissa McCarthy movie. (BTW, Menopause finds much amusement in the fact that, like McCarthy, its overweight characters can move and dance agilely and be sexual, a celluloid stereotype dating back to Mabel Normand during the silent cinema and early talkies. So one could conceivably argue that it, too, is sexist against women.)

Another curious canard is that women’s serving in the U.S. armed forces is somehow a form of “equality.” The fact that the formerly “weaker sex” - as well as nonwhites - can now invade, bomb, shoot, pillage, torture, sexually abuse (such as Lynndie England at Abu Ghraib), et al, people in Third World nations as mercenary members of an imperialist military is hardly a sign of progress. Yes ladies, step right up: Now you too can be a war criminal for Uncle Sam!

Meanwhile, back at the review:

The four characters in Menopause don’t verbally espouse any feminist theory, nor is there any men-bashing (let alone male characters). Sex is not their main preoccupation, nor is equal pay for equal work and other feminist issues. The musical is unthreatening because it is based on feminine biology, not feminism per se. Nevertheless, in what they do - rather than what they say - our quartet of protagonists does something that IS arguably feminist. They come together around largely women’s issues, proving that old slogan remains true: “Sisterhood is powerful.”

After about 45 minutes or so Menopause loses most of its dialogue and just becomes a sort of concert, with one pop parody (“oh look! she’s sending up Cher!”) belted out after another. This is sloppy playwriting and worse, there isn’t even a live band. (As that old TV commercial used to ask: Is it live or is it Memorex - or rather, Menopause?)

Menopause used to be called “the silent passage,” but in this musical you couldn’t get the actresses to shut up. And this is a good thing - women and men should be free to openly discuss and be their authentic inner selves, amongst themselves and with one another. In doing so, one not only vents but overcomes stigmas, stereotypes, stresses, insecurities, a sense of inadequacy, fears and more. Overall, Menopause is a rollicking good fun show, but here’s a hot flash for you: The show is now appearing in its final weekend, so if you want to see it head way down yonder Laguna way ASAP.

Menopause the Musical is playing Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., plus Sunday at 1:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., through Sept. 11 at the Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, CA 92651. For more info: (949) 497-2787; www.LagunaPlayhouse.com. A return engagement of the popular Menopause the Musical opens August 31.

Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell

L.A.-based reviewer Ed Rampell is a contributor to the new book “Conversations With W.S. Merwin”, the former U.S. Poet Laureate, and co-author of "The Hawaii Movie and Television Book" (see: http://hawaiimtvbook.weebly.com/).