Beginning with Pump Boys and Dinettes (1981), a new kind
of musical emerged, not on the Broadway stage, but in smaller
venues, particularly dinner theatre and regional theatres. This
new form uses a small cast of characters and hearkens back to
the pre-Oklahoma! days of musical history: a loose, light
plot with very little character development interspersed with
songs and dances, the musical numbers taking the bulk of the
A revue is a musical theatrical event that unites the elements
of the production with something other than plot: a particular
composer, a theme or even a producer. Historians refer to the
early 20th century as the Age of the Revue, with Vaudeville,
a conglomerate of disparate variety acts, the hallmark of the
age. This new dinner-theatre genre acts as a hybrid of the revue
and the musical play.
Since Pump Boys, possibly dozens of these highly producible
(small cast, small budget) and entertaining works have appeared.
Forever Plaid (1990) unites four handsome male singers
for an evening of nostalgic music and a sparse themethey
perform for us from beyond the grave. Nunsense (1985)
puts several singing and dancing nuns onstage with an occasional
reference to their characters and a story. The success of Nunsense
led to several sequelsNunsense II, Nuncrackers
and Nunsense Jamboree. Kansas City theatres, notably
the New Theatre Restaurant and the American Heartland Theatre,
annually mount examples of this aesthetic, a cross between a
revue and a musical play.
Menopause the Musical, now playing at the American Heartland
Theatre, fits neatly into this genre. Four women meet at Bloomingdales
in New York: Power Woman (Chavez Ravine), a business executive,
Earth Mother (Debra Bluford), an aging hippy, Iowa Housewife
(Jacqueline Reilly), a good wife and mother from the heartland,
and Soap Star (Licia Watson), a maturing actress in daytime
television drama. Practically butting heads around a table full
of reduced-price lingerie, the four women end up spending the
day together. All of them share the difficulties of menopause,
and all of them sing and dance.
The production staff at the Heartland Theatre made a brilliant
marketing maneuver in choosing Menopause the Musical
for their current season. Women going through the change make
up a huge percentage of their regular audience, and their houses
have been so full the theatre has dramatically extended the
run of the show.
The service organization for Menopause the Musical, Women
for Women, exists to give relevance and value to women over
40. Writer/producer jeanie linders (consistently spelled in
the program without capital letters) maintains that the product
is not about entertainment but about women. This musical does
manage to entertain effectively, but the most touching moment
of the show occurs at the end. For the finale, the four actresses
invite onstage all the women in the audience who are going through
or have gone through the change. Often, performers handle audience
participation moments awkwardly, but these superb professionals
invite the women onstage with tactful but energized enthusiasm.
The crowded stage full of women performing the final kick line
empowers them and brings beauty and humor to a trying time of
Creators linders, Kathryn Conte, Patty Bender and C.T. Hollis
have reworked standard songs and set them to new lyrics about
menopause. Bluford sings "In the guestroom or on the sofa,
my husband sleeps tonight" to the tune of "The Lion
Sleeps Tonight." Watson sings (more than once) "I'm
having a hot flash" to the music of "Heat Wave."
The melody of "Lookin' for Love in All the Wrong Places"
accompanies the lyrics "Packin' on pounds where I don't
have spaces." A comical medley about the women's use of
marital devices for self-pleasuring begins with a unique rendition
of the Beach Boys classic song "Good Vibrations."
A total of 28 songs interrupt snatches of dialogue with brief
references to a developing friendship between the four characters.
The four women onstage bring life to the music and somehow manage
to infuse realism into the small moments of a barebones plot.
Bluford, as always, regales the audience with physical humor
and sings perfectly. We even experience some of her rarely heard
high notes. When the women sit down to lunch, Bluford executes
a charming bit with her menu, moving it farther and farther
from her middle-aged eyes in order to read it. Ravine creates
an imposing and dignified "Power Woman." During the
dildo sequence, Ravine dons a tight mini-skirt and a blonde
fright wig to deliver a perfect imitation of Tina Turner singing
"What's Love Got to Do With It?"
The strengths of the show (particularly the final kick line)
outweigh some problems. A satire of "I've Got You Babe"
has the actresses inexplicably donning Sonny and Cher, circa
1970, attire. Choreographer Patty Bender competently staged
the musical numbers but relies on repetitious ideas. Most of
the songs are Motown with new lyrics, and Bender has few choices
but to put the soloist in front with the other three singers
in unison back-up singing sways. The dancing garners several
chuckles because we watch these women boogie down not with your
typical musical theatre smiles, but with facial expressions
of discomfort over their biological plight, a device that tires
Menopause the Musical provides a delightful evening of
entertainment in a specific and common contemporary musical
theatre format. The final musical number succeeds at both entertaining
the spectators and honoring womankind.
Menopause the Musical runs through May 13 at the American
Heartland Theatre in Crown Center. Call 816-842-9999 or visit
David Ollington can be contacted at Ollington@aol.com