Experiencing "Menopause" at the Michigan Theater
As I watched the touring production of Jeanie Linders’ “Menopause the Musical” at the Michigan Theater Tuesday night, I thought about what Guy Sanville - artistic director of Chelsea's Purple Rose Theatre - has said repeatedly about Jeff Daniels’ “Escanaba” plays: that the shows often draw out folks who aren’t regular theatergoers because, for maybe the first time in their lives, they’re seeing themselves on stage.
The same principle likely applies to “Menopause.” (Perhaps not coincidentally, both franchises have enjoyed great commercial success.)
Despite billing itself as a musical, however, “Menopause” is more of a comedy revue, serving up pop hits of the 60s and 70s with alternate lyrics (think Capitol Steps, but with a overarching focus on “the change” instead of current events).
Yes, the show has the faintest hint of a storyline - a soap star (Kathy St. George), an Iowa housewife (Sandy Dewoody), a professional woman (Fredena J. Williams), and an earth mother (Sandy Rosenberg) become friends for a day after sparring over sale-priced lingerie at Bloomingdale's - but mostly, the situation merely provides a backdrop for a 90 minute series of musical numbers.
Fortunately, the cast is up to the task; and apropos of the show’s tone, they both ham it up and sell the songs for all they’re worth. For me, Rosenberg was the charismatic vocal standout of the show’s first half, getting the maximum comic mileage from a sight gag (literally) with a menu and “My Husband Sleeps Tonight.” DeWoody, meanwhile, is hysterical in a scene in which she’s trying to envision her plus-size body in a teeny weeny teddy.
In the end, though, Williams earned her status as the audience favorite by way of her powerhouse voice and solid comic timing (particularly in “The Great Pretender”), not to mention an entrance - in the guise of a certain pop diva - that just about brought the house down Tuesday night.
I'll now confess that I, at age 38, am not the target audience for “Menopause” - yet. So with that disclaimer, I’ll put on my theater critic hat and report that Patty Bender’s choreography never ventures far beyond a wedding reception line dance, or what Gladys Knight might expect from her Pips; the recorded musical accompaniment sounds like it came straight from a karaoke machine (perhaps it did?); some of Linders' dialogue is clunky and flat-footed; and the show’s songs are often variations on the same joke, which can get stale.
But there’s no arguing that the mostly-female crowd of about 1,100 had a good time on Tuesday, which is, of course, precisely what they came for. Ultimately, "Menopause" is what it is - a fun excuse for a girls’ night out that concludes with the cast inviting audience members up on stage to dance to “Y.M.C.A.”
Yet I imagine the show also offers many women a validating sense of liberation. Not only does it unabashedly address menopause and its (often vexing, embarrassing and frustrating) effects head-on, in a lighthearted way, but it also features women who look like real, middle-aged women, and broaches the topic of older women’s sexuality - all things that still, to this day, make people uncomfortable.
So while I didn't personally fall in love with the show, I nonetheless found myself admiring its convictions. And there's something to be said for that.