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Not-so-hot flash
Menopause the Musical hits Boston
Menopause the Musical
By Jeanie Linders. Directed by Kathryn Conte. Co-directed and choreographed by Patty Bender. Musical direction, orchestrations, and arrangements by C.T. Hollis. Set by Miranda Clark. Lighting by Ginny Adams. Sound by J. Hagenbuckle. Costumes by Vickie K. Bast. With Adrienne Cote, Mary Callanan, Avery Sommers, and Kathy St. George. At the Stuart Street Playhouse through May 9.

No doubt there’s a clever musical to be written on the subject of menopause, but Menopause the Musical isn’t it, despite the guaranteed guffaws at the public mention of once-taboo conditions. The problem is that Jeanie Linders, who wrote the book and lyrics, takes the easy way out at every opportunity. The lyrics are parodies set to a string of golden oldies, mostly dating back to the 1960s and ’70s, with a few more ancient tunes added for appropriate references. A torch rendition of Irving Berlin’s "Heat Wave" begins, "I’m having a hot flash"; the Beach Boys’ "Good Vibrations" sees the über-obvious appearance of a certain unmentionable device. No surprises here, folks, but last Friday night’s audience, looking to be 99 percent women of a certain age, didn’t much care. Waving the "hot flash fans" that were being hawked in the aisles for a buck apiece before the lights went down, they screamed at the naughty gags and cheered the familiar bodily passages from a checklist of après-40 concerns: memory loss, weight gain, sluggish marriages, difficult diets, and the crying-out-loud need for attention to be paid.

Beisdes, Linders and directors Kathryn Conte and Patty Bender have struck gold with this cast of four hard-working actresses who understand that there’s no way they can overplay the material. The Boston-based Kathy St. George is particularly endearing as the Energizer Bunny of the troupe. Avery Sommers, who comes trailing an impressive list of Broadway credits, can bring down the house with her gospel-power delivery. Mary Callanan grits her teeth with good grace at the many oversized allusions; Adrienne Cote, in Barbara Bush–style linen suit and pearls, manages to convey the time-warp wasp lady of the Junior League.

The show takes place in Bloomingdale’s New York, where four disparate women from feminine cliché heaven — the over-aged theatrical ingénue, the tough-ass corporate officer, the ditzy housewife from Iowa, and the ’60s flower child — meet, compete, and then bond over the bargains at the lingerie counter. The idea for the set is borrowed from 19th-century farce, with the multiple doors to be slammed or spilled out from replicating the line-up of stalls in a ladies’ room. Yes, there’s a running joke about the constant need to be near a bathroom — and running is the operative adjective. Vickie Bast’s costumes, including a nifty group of basic black outfits for the finale, help to dress up the stage as well as the characters. The choreography, credited to Bender, is distinctly elementary, a retread of Supremes back-up routines and rock-star antics performed mostly in unison. The back-up band — Catherine Stornetta, Mark Nathanson, and James Bettincourt — do a fine job of bouncing through the familiar melodies.

You’d have to be a stone not to laugh at several of the sight gags, and the cast is stellar. But the material doesn’t add up to any message that goes beyond whining, despite the anthem-like ending of solidarity and hope set to "New Attitude." The Vagina Monologues, with its pressing political purpose, this show ain’t. Menopause the Musical is, however, clearly critic-proof: the Boston production is only one of the many national companies running in various cities across the land.

Issue Date: April 23 - 29, 2004
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