The change is good...for comedy: 'Menopause' a marvelous antidepressant at ACT

Menopause may have been the silent passage. But not anymore. Not if "Menopause the Musical" has its way. Making its Seattle bow in an open-ended run at ACT Theatre, this sassy musical revue celebrates women with plenty of attitude and a sensational cast. The show is boisterous, brassy, bawdy, satirical - and hilarious.

Menopause has long been a taboo topic in some circles - synonymous with old age. But thanks to this musical, hordes of women across the country are flocking to the theater to share and celebrate. Even a few good men, who will probably never be the same, are joining the frivolity.

But don't expect classic musical theater like "Gypsy," "Guys and Dolls" and "My Fair Lady." Inspired by a hot flash and a bottle of wine, writer/lyricist/producer Jeanie Linders created the parody to salute women on the brink of, in the middle of or survivors of "The Change." As humor bonds them together, even the production announcement - to place cellphones and beepers on vibrate - gets a huge laugh

None of the performers are runway models, thank you very much. They're not 20-something; they're not skinny. They just real woman, and we recognize all of them from people we already know.

Directed by Michael Larsen, "Menopause the Musical" unfolds on various floors of a simulated version of Bloomingdale's in New York City. When four very different women tussle over a black lace brassiere in the lingerie department, they soon find common ground and musical release.

The dynamic ensemble of four is made up of Cynthia Jones as the cellphone-talking, power-woman executive; Juliet Hicks as a soap-star diva still playing ingénues at 40; Laura Lee O'Connell as a married Iowa housewife and mother of four; and Jayne Muirhead as an Earth Mother with one foot still stuck in the '60s.

These performers are terrific, whether they're soloing or singing together. They've got the voices, the moves and the timing. They can bump and grind like strippers, deliver disco dips circa John Travolta, doo-wop like the Supremes and play backup band with kitchen utensils.

No menopausal milestone is too sensitive or wicked for this saucy song-and-dance quartet, frugging about the stage and belting out the high notes. In just 90 minutes, the fabulous foursome tackles flashing, food binges, face lifts, chocolate, hormones, night sweats, insomnia, antidepressants, orgasms, mood changes, weight gain, sex and lack of it ... the list goes on.

While the tell-all "Vagina Monologues" featured testimonials, this crew sings their saga. More than two dozen familiar tunes - mostly from the Baby Boomer era - have undergone "the change," transformed into cheeky parodies. Marvin Gaye's classic is now "I heard it through the grapevine; you'll no longer see 39" and Aretha Franklin's hit "Chain of Fools" translates to "Change, change, change ... change of life." Mary Wells' "My Guy" becomes "My Thighs." The Bee Gees' "Staying Alive" becomes "Stayin' Awake,'" while The Beach Boys' "Help Me Rhonda" becomes "Thank You, Doctor," an ode to antidepressants. There's even a Tina Turner twist.

The talented Cynthia Jones always lights up the stage, and as the high-octane executive, she delivers song after song with her rich and soulful powerhouse vocals - she doesn't miss a beat. She even gets the audience to fan her while she brings down the house on "I'm Flashing," set to "I'm Sorry," and "The Great Pretender." Jones might even snag that Hanes commercial away from Tina Turner, when she switches from designer pant suits into Turner's trademark short leather lacings and wild-woman hair to belt the superstar's signature song, "What's Love Got to Do With It?"

Muirhead endows her hippie character with spacey New Age sincerity and disarming candor. Still wearing ponytails and loose flowing garments, Earth Mother's been living with the same man for 25 years without being married. As Muirhead bobs and sways through "In the guest room or on the sofa my husband sleeps at night," set to "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," her cohorts sing "she's a witcha, she's a bitcha" backup.

Portraying the soap-star diva, Hicks stirs up libidos as the orgasm-deprived, over-the-hill ingénue. Irving Berlin must be blushing in his grave every time she throws her skirt up and sings "I'm Having a Hot Flash" instead of his lyrics to "Heat Wave." With a few Fosse hand movements, Hicks takes her naughtiness to the audience, tossing her leg over an older gent's shoulder to lament her sexual hunger. As she nears the song's climax, she leaps into Meg Ryan's "When Harry Met Sally" territory with big breathy syllables and sexy squeals.

The adorable Laura Lee O'Connell personifies the naïve Iowa Housewife - and this critic ought to know since she was raised by one. The matronly-looking mother is visiting the big city for the first time with her funeral-director husband Ronnie. She thinks vegans are aliens, her thighs are like cottage cheese and her husband has lost interest in sex. But she's absolutely shocked at the suggestion of "Mother's real little helper" - a vibrator. We won't give away her big solo, but when she prances in with her new best friend, the audience howls.

The orchestra four-piece band has fun with the performers, as the singers match their movements to musicians' antics. Just one gripe: The sound designer needs to figure out his job. On opening night, the head-mikes fluctuated wildly - going soft when they should be loud and vice versa, an injustice to the talented women onstage.

Researchers reckon that by 2008 menopausal women will be the largest demographic in America. So it's no wonder that wherever the revue plays, they leap to their feet cheering to rush on stage at the cast's invitation. 

This rousing evening of female camaraderie has to be better - and more fun - than those male-bonding treks into the backwoods. Truthfully, "Menopause the Musical" should be a required pilgrimage for the male sex. After all, they ought to see what we've done with their rib.

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"Menopause the Musical" shows Tuesday-Sunday in an open-ended run at ACT Theatre. Tickets $45, through ACT's Box Office, 292-7676.

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Freelance writer Starla Smith is a Seattle resident. Before moving to Seattle, Smith was a Broadway journalist and Tony voter.[[In-content Ad]]