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Menopause the Musical
14/07/2004
The Star
CANDID LOOK AT GROWING OLDER
Having laughed a lot, Suhaini Aznam also found herself impressed by the delivery of the subject matter in Menopause The Musical.
By Suhaini Aznam

It was hilarious. They promised, and they delivered.

It was the second night of the show last Thursday, and it played to a full house. The audience, educated and urban, laughed at the right points, clapped enthusiastically, and obviously relating to the storyline.

Menopause The Musical touched a chord with the audience – mainly women, just turning the corner if not already there. Many brought along their partners: boyfriends, husbands and significant others. The 20% male audience looked like they had been brought kicking and screaming. Most looked unimpressed.

But Menopause The Musical was not just a woman thing. It spoke about the art of growing older gracefully, whatever your gender.

Earth Mother Pammie O’Bannon was adorable when she had her girlfriend hold her menu card further and further away from her.

Men too suffer from middle-aged spread and food cravings. In fact, men show their paunches even earlier.

Ditto memory loss. Shelley Browne, before her metamorphosis from Power Woman to vamp, was terrific in “Oh yes, I’m a great pretender.” She marches purposefully to the meeting room and at the door, forgets what she’s meant to do.

But because women are more concerned about looks, menopause is traumatic. The faded soap star Tricia Matthews’ number about boob jobs and plastic surgery addressed at least a fleeting thought of most women.

By the time Iowa housewife Sandy DeWoody came out with “My Thighs”, sung to the tune of “My Guy”, the audience was in gales of laughter.

The singing was good to excellent. Shelley threw her voice effortlessly in the cosy Actors Studio, venue for the show running from July 7 – 25. (No extensions. The Actors Studio is booked for months later.)

The show is a Gardner & Wife production, no strangers to the local theatre scene. They had wanted to bring Menopause The Musical to Malaysia two years ago, but the Bali bombing and the SARS scare put paid to those plans.

This is an off-Broadway show with its home in Florida. It has played, using different casts, in various cities in the United States for the past four years. The grassroots (read mass) appeal is so strong that Richard and Chae Lian Gardner signed up the original cast sight unseen.

The cast of four made good use of the stage, giving everyone, by turns, a grandstand view. Apart from the backdrop, the props were simple and effective.

And the musical back-up was first rate. Musical director C.T. Hollis on the keyboards gave precise cues for bassist Jordan Rivers and drummer Michael Tan. Their performance was all the more commendable for their being squeezed into a tight corner just off-stage, sweaty and almost out of sight – but always impactful in delivery.

The musical was unpretentious. It began as slapstick at a lingerie sale and continued in that vein for much of the 90-minute run. No breaks. It sustained the mood.

The 1970s songs, with lyrics adapted around the theme, kept the audience in stitches.

When Tina Turner (Browne) emerged belting out “What’s Love Got To Do With It”, she rocked the house.

Solidarity among sisters was the underlying theme. All the women used anti-depressants, all had hot flushes, all had to mop up their bed sheets, all wanted better sex.

DeWoody rushing off to the ladies’ muttering “Gotta go, gotta go,” followed by a sigh, a flush and “Made it” had universal appeal.

But there was one poignant number, about mother-daughter relations. “I’m your babe, Ma” hushed some of the audience, perhaps those who had had difficult relations with their mothers. The daughters were all grown up now, nay they were menopausal themselves, yet their mothers were still treating them as kids, telling them what to do.

And there were a few sombre lines.

“You’ll never see 39 again” was a stark reminder of the passing years. So was “looking in the mirror and seeing your mother.”

Those who expect a discourse on Utopia will be crushed. It’s a musical, for heaven’s sake.

But given its there, there were a few lapses.

Coping with the change in life, as opposed to the symptoms of change in life, was not addressed. The musical ignored women’s empowerment. And hormone replacement therapy.

The end seemed to rush up, moving from the pyjama-clad dildo scene to the women, each in black evening gown, butterflies emerging free.

Because it was a musical, I suppose, the characters did not develop much along the way. The stereotypes remained, only stronger, more comfortable with themselves.

The celebration of self-confidence and freedom was heart-warming. But expected. No one had fallen by the wayside.

Worth seeing? Definitely. A warm, light-hearted girls’ evening out, with coffee and giggles later.

Malaysians are still not accustomed to such frank discussions of female sexuality and symptoms. Malaysians’ idea of womanhood is still stuck in the “sweet, sweet Siti Nurhaliza” stereotype. Women, in all their incarnations stump us. We take ourselves too seriously. This musical was a success because we could laugh with the characters.