Theatre review: “Menopause the Musical” at Beef and Boards

"Menopause the Musical" at Beef and Boards - photo by Julie Curry

The other morning I found myself telling my doctor about how good “Menopause the Musical” had made me feel.  It has been around since 2001 but I saw it for the first time on April 2, 2013 at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre on the northwest side of Indianapolis.

In the show, four different middle-aged women meet while fighting over some lingerie that is on sale at Bloomingdale’s department store in New York City.  Eventually they bond over the fact that even though they are different from each other in a lot of ways, they are all somewhere on the menopausal path.  They go to lunch in the store’s restaurant, try on clothes in various departments, use the restroom together, answer phone calls…and share experiences, offer each other advice and encouragement, laugh, cry, sing, dance…

"Menopause the Musical" at Beef and Boards - photo by Julie Curry

And leave the store joyfully embracing where they are in life.

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Menopausal Margaret

I don’t think the musical includes any original songs, which at first disappointed me.  Now, however, I admire creator Jeanie Linders’ choice to take (with permission) popular songs from her target audience’s youth (i.e., mostly from the 1960s, with a few from other decades) and re-write the lyrics to humorously invite candid conversation about topics that are not usually talked about candidly, let alone publicly. We hear each tune and remember, “Oh, I love that song!”  Then we listen to the new words and laugh with delight at being understood and validated on another level.

In tackling the topic of menopause “now,” Jeanie Linders did for us in 2001 what Judy Blume did for us in 1970 when she wrote with sensitivity and humor about menstruation and getting one’s first bra and so on in her novel for pre-teens, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.  Both pieces let us know that no stage in the life of a woman’s body is shameful.  Also, that there is no shame in being curious about how other girls/women are experiencing each stage of life.  And that in fact, every stage is worthy of appreciation, even celebration.

Judy Blume and her publishers have tweaked newer editions of the Margaret novel to keep it relevant for new generations. Sanitary napkins nowadays have adhesive strips, for example. No one uses safety pins and a belt anymore to hold them in place but they did back when I was eleven and when Margaret was first published.  I was glad to read in my program that Jeanie Linders is working on an updated “Menopause the Musical Extreme” for “the next generation of women.” It is scheduled to premiere in Orlando, Florida “and internationally” in 2014.

I am also glad to know that there have already been some small updates.  For example, according to Jay Harvey’s interview in the Indianapolis Star of Beef and Boards actor Tiffanie Bridges, who plays Professional Woman in the show, her role used to be called “Power Woman.”  She is a manager in some sort of corporation.  I interpret, and applaud, this update as acknowledging that women in business are not the only women with, or interested in, power.

“I never get hot flashes”

The show does not dig very deeply into the complexity of the spiritual, creative, or psychological richness that is menopause.  It mostly focuses on physical symptoms and looks at them in a comical way.  So…I suppose there is a danger of people (e.g., men, younger women, uninformed women of any age) thinking the physical symptoms are all there is, that menopause is just a “curse” that you endure with as cheerful an attitude as possible, instead of being a true blessing as well.

Or that it’s okay to blame an individual woman’s legitimate anger or sadness or whatever on “menopausal mood swings” instead of actually listening to her, the way people sometimes dismiss a younger woman’s righteous anger or sadness as due to her being “on the rag” or it being “that time of the month.”

However, even if the show does focus on the physical symptoms, one of the things I love about it is that it does not say “here is what all women are like and here is what menopause is like.” Quite the contrary: it makes the point that each woman’s experience is unique.  For example, some peri- and menopausal women get “hot flashes” or have trouble sleeping or whatever, but not all do.

Also, it is obvious that the four characters in this story – Professional Woman, Iowa Housewife, Soap Star, and Earth Mother – were carefully crafted to represent different kinds of women, but I didn’t get the feeling that they were meant to collectively represent all women.  Quite the contrary:  the musical implies that these four “types” are only four of many. 

How refreshing!

The musical lets you laugh at the range of physical symptoms, which gets you feeling grateful for your body as is, which opens the door to talking about and reading about and thinking more deeply about and celebrating the other aspects of this stage of life.  You might, for example, realize that what you need to mourn is not the fact that you never had children but the fact that you are losing the ability to choose.  Or you might realize, now that your children have gone off to college or whatever and you have a chance to catch your breath, that you made some mistakes in raising them and you need to mourn those missed opportunities.

BUT there is a freedom in this grieving process, too.  You begin to realize that you have the second half of your life ahead of you without the expectations of the first half.  If you “failed” at meeting any of those expectations, well, so be it.  It’s okay to let them go now.

And you start to notice what you have accomplished and attempted and earned and learned…and the wisdom feels good.

In other words:  “Menopause the Musical” doesn’t go far enough for me on its own, but it is a fun catalyst for further exploration and personal growth.

(Speaking of post-show reading, another book that was pivotal to me in my youth – Our Bodies, Ourselves, by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective – has a Menopause version that came out in 2006.  Two other books that interest me based on their coming up on my radar via a number of sources are: The Wisdom of Menopause by Christine Northrup, M. D. and Creative Menopause: Illuminating Women’s Health & Spirituality by Farida Sharan, but I haven’t had a chance to even skim those yet.  I am also interested to read one or more of the several books that Jean Shinoda Bolen has written in the years since I first came across her Goddesses in Everywoman and Gods in Everyman books on archetypes years ago.  Doesn’t Crossing to Avalon: a Woman’s Midlife Quest for the Sacred Feminine sound interesting? And what about Crones Don’t Whine: Concentrated Wisdom for Juicy Women?!  The title alone makes me laugh with delight.)

Beef and Boards’ Production

But getting back to this particular show…

I was disappointed that while the songs are sung live by the four actors, their musical accompaniment is pre-recorded rather than performed in the moment by live musicians.  I understand that this is a way for a theatre to save money (and I assume that this was the thinking behind this choice for this show) but I still prefer live musicians, especially at Beef and Boards.  Beyond the uniquely heightened energy and artistic quality that live musicians bring to any show, there is something uniquely charming about being able to glance up and see the three or four musicians doing their thing in the B&B loft.

That said, the four actors in this show are pretty darn endearing all on their own with the recording.  Their voices blend well in their group numbers and their individual voices sound good in their solo numbers.  They dance well, too, and make you want to get up and join them in the fun choreography (created by Patty Bender and supervised by Daria Lynne Melendez.)

But what I loved most, and what may make me find a way to see this show again, is the wit and warmth they bring to their individual portrayals and the chemistry that exists between them on stage.

"Menopause the Musical" at Beef and Boards - photo byJulie Curry

 

Tiffanie Bridges, as I mentioned earlier, plays the Professional Woman, a corporation manager who is comfortable with the high-pressured environment of a corporation but who lately has begun to rush down the hall as usual, mobile phone clamped to her ear on the way to a meeting…only to forget for a moment why she called the meeting.  At one point Professional Woman imitates Tina Turner, and at first I thought, “Hey, now, wait a minute. I love Tina Turner. Are you making fun of her?” But Tiffanie makes fun of Tina’s on-stage mannerisms so accurately that I felt she was honoring her as well as spoofing her, so I relaxed and laughed.  Tiffanie’s nickname around Indianapolis is “SoulPowerhouse” because of her singing voice, which is, indeed, impressive, but I admire her comedic skills as well.

Tiffanie Bridges as Professional Woman in "Menopause the Musical" at Beef and Boards - photo by Julie Curry

 

Judy Bridgewater plays the Iowa Housewife, who minces hurriedly into the restroom and announces “Made it!” from behind the stall door because these days there is no guarantee she will.  She is in New York with her husband, who is there on a business trip.  Judy has nailed what I think of as the Midwestern Mouse disguise. It is a mix of: a surface of wide-eyed innocence, a layer of friendly practicality, over a base of deep-rooted family values (in the best sense of the expression) and strength. I’m not explaining this very well, but anyway, the wordless scene of Judy’s character optimistically trying on a flimsy bathing suit is Depends-worthy hilarious.

Judy Bridgewater as Iowa Housewife in "Menopause the Musical" at Beef and Boards - photo by Julie Curry

 

Rebecca Fisher plays the Soap Star.  She is a famous television actress who is worried that she is being eclipsed by younger actresses.  However, she has carefully taken care of her body and she is still oh-my-goodness sexy.  In fact, Rebecca sings one song in particular that shows that not only is there nothing provisional in the Soap Star’s sex drive, there is a power in it that only maturity brings.  She involves a random silver fox in the audience in a way that makes us all laugh – not at him but in recognition of her pleasure and need.

Rebecca Fisher as Soap Star in "Menopause the Musical" at Beef and Boards - photo by Julie Curry

 

Dee Etta Rowe plays the Earth Mother.  She frequently stops to take deep, cleansing breaths complete with arm movements, and she turns to St. John’s Wort instead of Xanax to calm her mood swings.  She may or may not have been a “hippie” in her youth but she definitely shops at the New Age People store on 86th Street when she happens to be in Indianapolis now.  Dee Etta gives Earth Woman a mix of broad (heh – no pun intended) comedic choices, earnest groundedness, airy-fairy silliness, and true compassion that is both fascinating and likable.

Dee Etta Rowe as Earth Mother in "Menopause the Musical" at Beef and Boards - photo by Julie Curry

 

Men, Ben, “Midlife the Crisis Musical” and “This”

Going into Beef and Boards, I was thinking aloud on Twitter, trying to remember if I had seen this show before somewhere. I remembered a menopausal musical from a few years ago, but it had men in the cast as well as women…what WAS it?!

Twitter buddy (and a talented actor herself) Erin Cohenour helped me remember that it was “Midlife the Crisis Musical” (book, music, and lyrics by Bob Walton and Jim Walton) and that I had seen it at Theatre on the Square.

Later I dug around and found that I had written about “Midlife the Crisis Musical” on Indiana Auditions in 2007, before I started writing Indy Theatre Habit. Here is a link to that short review, if you want to read it.  I remember that show as being whineier, less celebratory than this one, but my review says I loved it, so I probably did.  My memory is not what it used to be. (Hah!)

In any case, “Midlife the Crisis Musical” was definitely about going through midlife as part of a couple and it tried to show that both men and women go through physical, emotional, and mental changes as they age.

“Menopause the Musical” is a show for women, about women, as (straight) women, whether single or married.  It values women independent of their relationships with men, and it leaves men’s mid-life experiences for others to tell about.  However, it is not a man-bashing show, which is another reason it is refreshing. 

I think that even though “Menopause the Musical” is very specifically targeted in terms of audience, other people can enjoy it, too.  I laughed out loud with delight when I read on Ben Asaykwee’s Facebook that he had loved seeing and hearing his singing partner, Tiffanie Bridges, in this show but that he thought he must be menopausal, too, because he experiences many of the same symptoms!  (Ben is the young – maybe 30 years old? – artistic director of Q Artistry.)

And, just as many older adults enjoy reading the coming-of-age stories that are featured in young adult literature because a good story is a good story and we were all teenagers once, everyone knows someone that is or soon will be menopausal even if they themselves are not.

In fact, I think I’m going to start looking for “midlife lit” as well as YA lit from now on, both in terms of the novels I read and the theatre I see.  If I could, I would go back and see the Phoenix Theatre’s production of “This,” by Melissa James Gibson again.  It is completely different from “Menopause the Musical” and “Midlife the Crisis Musical” but  it offers another interesting take on “coming of middle age.”

Other Credits

Beef and Boards’ production of “Menopause the Musical” was co-produced by GFour Productions.  Director: Seth Greenleaf.  Musical director: Terry Woods. Sound Supervisor: Chris Strange. Technical Advisor & Lighting Designer: Gary Demumbrum.  Set designer: Bud Clark.  I  don’t find any mention of a costume designer in either my program or my media kit so I can’t tell you who designed the costumes, but whoever it was did a good job.  (If I find it out later, I will update this review.)

Music for this show was recorded by: Michael Dubay on keyboards; Don Meoli on drums; Jonathan Rem on bass.

Box Office and a Couple Other Things

“Menopause the Musical” runs through May 12, 2013 at a variety of times at the Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre.  For more information and show schedule: www.beefandboards.com.  To make reservations, please call their Box Office at 317-872-9664 between 10am and 7pm Tuesday through Sunday and 10am to 5pm Mondays.

My B&B server told me that the show’s license does not allow the 90 minutes to be divided by an intermission, so plan to have your dessert right after your meal and enjoy being home relatively early.  I thought I would feel rushed but it actually works out very satisfactorily, thanks to the skill of the serving staff.

The musical ends with an invitation for anyone that is currently going through The Change to come up on stage and do a kick line with the four women in the cast.  Two of the handsome servers stand in front of the stage, ready to hold your hand and assist you up the two or three steps.  Someone will even catch your shoe if you happen to kick it off by mistake, and you get a little gift from the cast before you go back to your seat.  I mention this not to spoil the surprise but to warn you so that you don’t let your foot fall asleep as I did.  I would have been up there myself if I had been able to walk right that minute!

‘See you at the theatres!

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com and @IndyTheatre on Twitter.

(Photos above were taken by Julie Curry and are used with permission.)

©2013 Hope Baugh

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