No Hot Flash in the Pan

Menopause The Musical is as much a phenomenon as a piece of theater. As my friend and I entered the New Denver Civic Theatre, we walked into a wall of laughter and chatter. There were women everywhere -- in twos and threes, in throngs, elderly women, middle-aged women, young women who apparently wanted to know what was in store for them, women hugging, women lining up outside the ladies' room, women surging purposefully toward the bar. Except for one, who held her coffee in two hands. "I need to get sober so I can enjoy this show," she said.

Wrong. This show works best if you're slightly looped. Its plot is so fragile that even the cliche "whisper-thin" doesn't describe it. Four women -- no, four types -- meet at a lingerie sale at Bloomingdale's: Power Woman, Soap Star, Earth Mother and Iowa Housewife. They start out bickering but then discover that they have hot flashes, memory lapses and mood swings in common. They then proceed to sing parodies of iconic baby-boomer songs. "Chain of Fools" becomes "Change, Change, Change"; the opening line of "Heat Wave" transforms into "I'm having a hot flash" and -- in one of the evening's most successful numbers -- the women beg the doctor for Prozac to the tune of the Beach Boys' "Help Me, Rhonda." Most of the lyrics aren't particularly clever, though I have to admit I howled at the use to which writer Jeannie Linders put "Good Vibrations." For the most part, however, the show feels like a series of jingles advertising the possibility of a chipper menopause.

Part of its success nationwide (and apparently the musical is packing them in everywhere) can be attributed to the fact that women love talking about menopause. According to an interview in the press package, Linders feels her show has a message: Menopause is "NOT The Silent Passage anymore," but, in fact, hasn't been silent for a couple decades. It's been at the heart of a churning, clamoring industry, with scores of books, artworks, websites, articles, pharmaceutical leaflets and holistic recommendations devoted to the topic. In particular, until 2002, when the practice was soundly discredited, women were advised by the hundreds of thousands to use hormone replacement therapy. They were told it would protect their bones and hearts, and even help prevent Alzheimer's disease. The greed of the pharmaceutical industry, however, is a topic Linders does not address.

Still, if you accept that Menopause The Musical is about as smart and substantial as cotton candy, more a series of cabaret turns than a musical, it provides a certain amount of fun, and I can see why it draws groups of women for a few enjoyable after-work hours. In addition to all that female bonding, the songs in Menopause were hits for a reason -- they're lively, toe-tapping numbers. All four actress-singers are talented and give huge, vigorous performances, despite the fact that, as always at the Civic, they are crudely and far too loudly miked. I think my overall favorite is Sheryl Renee as the hard-driving businesswoman. Not only does she have an amazing voice, but she's more centered and less of a mugger than her cohorts. Mercedes Perez is poised and sexy as the soap-opera star about to lose her job to a younger woman, and she, too, sings beautifully. I found Julie Cadwell's housewife annoying at first -- again, this is a very broad, shrieky performance -- but warmed to her as the proceedings wore on. Either she began to relax or I did, and her housewife persona became rather sweet. Beth Flynn's performing style is big, funny and flashy. She has an interesting head voice, both singing and speaking, but the miking does her no favors; it washes out nuance and makes the sound brassy.

Perhaps inadvertently, the show does raise one existential question. Toward the middle -- and following all kinds of confessional material about aging -- the women lament their night sweats to the tune of "Stayin' Alive." If you're one of the many people who believe there's no essential difference between men and women, try imagining a group of men strutting and harmonizing:

Well, I'm as down as my wife's big frown;
I ain't stayin' erect, stayin' erect.
Life force is leavin' and now we're grievin',
I ain't stayin' erect, stayin' erect.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' erect, stayin' erect
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' erect.

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Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman

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