When I was waiting in line to get into the theater for the only showing of “Menopause the Musical” at Lincoln Theater, a woman came up to me and said, “You’re a brave man to be here.”
I looked out over the sea of hair in various stages of grey or died a golden blond, and said, “I was just thinking the same thing.” Indeed, it was a little unsettling, to be one of four men among an estimated 300 menopausal women.
When I sat down, I saw another man behind me, sitting next to his wife, and said to him, “looks like we’re in the minority tonight.”
He responded, “I’ve lived through it!” His smile was large and warm. So was his wife’s.
Right after that, another woman came up to me and said, “Thank you for being here.” It was then that I realized something: to have a member of the male sex attend a show based on, perhaps, the most unglamorous stage in a woman’s life, meant a lot to these woman. I felt buoyant. Optimistic. I thought, maybe they don’t get that at home.
Then Kool & the Gang’s “Celebrate” came over the loudspeaker, a low roar filled the theater, and hands went up and waved in time with the music. There was something celebratory in the air. You could feel this joyous expectation, this feeling that we were going ditch inhibitions and celebrate what it means to be a woman.
“Menopause the Musical” is a 90-minute musical revue that revels in the challenges of aging as a woman in glorious, hilarious detail. “The Change” is universal and a worthy subject for exploration on the stage. Especially when that exploration involves laughter.
The setting is Bloomingdale’s in New York City present day. Four women, who are not named, perhaps signaling that they are “everywoman,” all meet in the lingerie department. A sale is announced on bras and they get in a fight over one. This quickly dissipates when one of them realizes this particular bra is much too small for them. Then they all become friends, setting the stage for an evening of singing and dancing about the foibles of losing one’s biological fertility.
There is Professional Woman, played by Anise Ritchie, who struts in stilettos and sings in a massive, gospel singer voice. Then there is Soap Star, who is vain, but sexy, and reminds me of Rue McClanahan’s Blanche Devereaux on The Golden Girls. Earth Mother, played by Megan Cavanagh, is a child of the ‘60s, sweet and innocent and into meditation and herbalism. And then there’s Iowa Housewife, played by Roberta B. Wall, a prim and proper matron who eventually learns from the others that when her husband Ronny is not in the mood for intimacy, there are other, more solitary, ways of satisfying one’s urges.
The conceit is that these women are in Bloomingdale’s doing what any women does in Bloomingdale’s: shop. Each department — cosmetics, evening wear, sports wear, the restaurant, and, of course, the ladies room — gives rise to a reason for a song.
All of the songs are covers of familiar music. For example, in Betty Everett’s “The Shoop Shoop Song,” there is the lyric “if you want to know if he loves you so, it’s in his kiss.” But our ladies modify it by singing “if you want to know where the fat glands go, it’s on my hips. That’s where it is.”
In “My Guy” by Mary Wells, the lyric is “nothing you can say can tear me away from my guy.” The menopausal version is “nothing I can do because it [the fat] sticks like glue, to my thighs.”
To the tune of The Tokens’ “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” rather than the “wimoweh” refrain in the song, they sing, referencing the menopausal mood swings, “she’s a witch, she’s a bitch, she’s a witch, she’s a bitch.” And hilariously, instead of “in the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight,” it’s “in the guest room or on the sofa, my husband sleeps at night.”
They lunch in the restaurant where Earth Mother can’t read the menu and needs Soap Star to hold it far enough away from her to see it. Then Soap Star and Professional Woman have to pause, and have, as it happens so often in the show, a “Hot Flash Interlude.” The stage goes dark and they sing, in mock annoyance, about their thermological fluctuations.
This is a show for our time. In the age of #metoo when younger women are speaking up about how they are treated by men, it’s fitting that we celebrate the women who have been dealing with that treatment all along. Finally, at this late stage in life, these women have the freedom to be oneself, to do things just for oneself.
What I began to think, as I contemplated all these women who were laughing hysterically, was that there must be no more beautiful time in life than the liberation from the biological process.
While the loss of a woman’s girlish looks may be depressing, “Menopause” embraces this fact and makes it fun. Laughter about a subject is disarming, and when you have about 300 other women, laughing right along with you, you realize the despair is only in the loneliness.
After the show, I met with the performers and asked them why they think the show is important. Megan Cavanagh, who played Earth Mother said, “I would say this is truly a celebration of women and that our best years are not really behind us. We are awesome, we are strong, we are vibrant, we are beautiful. We don’t have the beauty that we had when we were 25, but we are beautiful inside and out. It’s important to show it. To be your true self right now because time is slipping away.”
Anise Ritchie, Professional Woman, said, “It’s really important for women as well as men so that men when they come to the show with their wives or girlfriends they can understand what the women are going through, why they’re waking up at night with these hot sweats. It helps both men and women to understand the journey that all women go through.”
Kathy St. George, Soap Star, added, “I think it shows that we’re all in this together. We all want to lift each other up. It’s a celebration of something that in the past would be taboo. Let’s push that under the rug. We don’t want to talk about menopause, hot flashes and mood swings. But this show says that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a natural phase in a woman’s life. Let’s celebrate and have fund and lift each other up.”
What this show makes clear is that, while one’s body maybe changing, the mind and spirit are stronger than ever. A woman in her 60s and beyond may not have the perky bosom or defined cheekbones of her 20s, but she can still have a twinkle in her eye and a spring in her step. Shows like this will make that twinkle all the shinier, and that spring all the more spry.
This production of “Menopause the Musical” is on tour. Next stop is Folsom, California; then on to Colorado Springs, Colorado; Calgary, Alberta and Reno, Nevada, among other places. But, a production is currently ongoing at the Harrah’s Hotel in Las Vegas. Next time your dad has a convention in Las Vegas, tell him to take your mother and go see this show.