Mid-Life! The Crisis Musical

Experience counts at Boulder’s Dinner Theatre.

I still have unhappy memories of Menopause the Musical and the slightly less ghastly Hats! at the New Denver Civic Theatre — shows intended to be cheap to produce and expensive to attend, shows that found instant audiences by playing on the sentimentalities and self-delusions of middle-aged women. So I didn't have high expectations for Mid-Life! The Crisis Musical, a six-actor piece by Jim and Bob Walton. But the fact is, it's really pretty funny, and is deservedly drawing crowds at Boulder's Dinner Theatre.

As the story goes, BDT artistic director Michael J. Duran was looking for something a little different from the book musicals he usually stages; he and Jim Walton had worked together as actors on Broadway, so he knew about this show and traveled to Minneapolis to see a production. Then he not only brought Mid-Life! to Boulder, but he invited Walton to come here and direct it. The performers — Scott Beyette, Alicia Dunfee, Brian Norber, Bren. Eyestone Burron, A.K. Klimpke and Barb Reeves — are seasoned, energetic and talented, stalwarts of the troupe that's kept BDT hopping all these years. (Burron's been absent for a while, though, and this is her first show with Duran.) Since these actors are all moving into middle age or have already arrived there, BDT has brought in some younger performers for lead roles in other productions. But this is a vehicle that lets them parade gray hairs, a few wrinkles and thickening middles with panache.

The skits and songs are introduced by a clever device: an electronic eye chart, the letters fading in and out or moving in front of your eyes until they form the titles. Perhaps the most memorable number is "Biological Clock," in which Dunfee's character, frantically wanting to have a baby, attempts to coax, bully and force her date into giving up his sperm. It's funny as written, but Dunfee makes it unforgettable as she pleads, dances, stomps, attempts to nurse her own purse at her breast and finally topples the hapless male to the floor and straddles him. In another terrific skit, a middle-aged couple laments their far-from-empty nest, occupied by a grown-up slacker son; like all the best humor, it's true as well as amusing, and there's a sweetness at its core. In a brief, side-splitting sketch that reminds us of all those obnoxious television commercials, Norber contemplates the warnings on the label of his medication. A couple of doctor visits — a singing mammogram for her, an appointment with a proctologist for him — yield more comic gold. "Classical Menopause" features a dignified, robed choir singing an accompaniment as Burron falls apart; the scene in which she parades before Klimpke in an ultra-flimsy, several-sizes-too-small dress and asks if it makes her look fat is one of the gutsiest, silliest and funniest sequences I've seen in years. "What Did I Come in Here for?" requires no description; suffice it to say that the Waltons make this universal experience work three ways. There's also a genuinely touching piece called "The Long Goodbye," in which Dunfee, Norber and Reeves encounter each other at a playground. But they're not supervising young children; they're watching the aged parents they've brought on an outing from a nearby nursing home. "They slip away, a little further every day," the trio sings in lovely harmony.

Brian Norber (from left), Scott Beyette and A.K. Klimpke have a ball in Mid-Life! The Crisis Musical.
Brian Norber (from left), Scott Beyette and A.K. Klimpke have a ball in Mid-Life! The Crisis Musical.

A few sketches flop — a lament for lost hair, a bit about Botox for men — and others work only partially. And some of the humor is oddly retro, particularly in the scene in which three men try to reclaim their youthful athleticism in a baseball practice only to be interrupted by simultaneous phone calls from their wives. Their humble "Yes, dears" would have drawn chuckles from the old guys in the Borscht Belt. In another skit, a divorced women, contemplating revenge, can think of nothing better than having her breasts done and becoming a stripper; her friend exults because her husband was caught by a farmer fornicating with a sheep. And in "I Quit" — a musically lively and infectious piece — the first man quits a corporate job, the second his wife, and the third stops pretending he's straight. What do the women bid goodbye to? Carpooling, housework and lying about age. Oh, come on, guys.

For all that, Mid-Life! is far more hip than most dinner-theater fare. The music is skilled, and the performers are a hoot to watch – which makes for a light, happy good time, if not the time of your mid-life.

 
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