Men, pause: It’s for ladies only

You’ve heard of movie franchises, but you might be interested to know that the wacky world of theater has franchises of its own.

Take a property called Menopause, owned by novice playwright Jeanie Linders. It opened off-Broadway and also can be seen in Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Cleveland, Denver, Orlando, Des Moines, Fort Lauderdale and now in Philadelphia. The show has played in Malaysia, the Philippines and Mexico, and will be translated to Hebrew for a run in Israel. Soon, it will open in Australia.

Menopause the Musical is a show that knows its audience — and plays to it to the hilt. For women of a certain age, the very mention of the word menopause can cause an anxiety attack.

Linders has conjured an amusing program with a series of pop-song parodies that surveys the overwhelming physical and psychological changes wrought at the end of the childbearing years.

There is no storybook to this no-brainer of a musical that offers 24 songs — all parodies to hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, mood swings and memory loss.

The 90-minute songfest has no original compositions, choosing instead to serve up parodies of tried-and-true hits, mostly from the 1960s. It’s a one-joke evening that tends to repeat itself again and again and again, but the full house of women (all of a certain age) on the night I attended didn’t seem to mind. They were ready and willing to celebrate the material.

Moving from beauty shop to a Bloomindales’s caf� to the restroom, the ladies croon their complaints in an exhausting number of mind-numbing songs.

On the surface, the premise for the show is simple: Four women meet in Bloomingdale’s while fighting over brassieres on sale. In coming to grips with their behavior, they realize that they’re all in the throes of menopause. We then follow them from floor to floor, department to department, as they explore the various aspects of "the change," including hot flashes, sweats, food binges, memory issues, farsightedness, antidepressants, cosmetic surgery and exercise.

The four women come from different walks of life: CeceLia Ann Birt (power woman), Caroline Durham (soap star), Carol Provonsha (earth mother) and Lois Sach Binder (Iowa housewife) are perfectly cast for the goofy chores at hand. But these personas are used mainly for silly punch lines and hackneyed dialogue. The businesswoman bellows into a cell phone that a contract must be re-faxed, the desperately-clinging-to-her-youth actress boasts of her boy toy, the Midwestern matron informs her urban friends, "We have sex in Iowa!" and the erstwhile hippie reminisces about burning her bra in the ’60s.

Linders told an interviewer from, "The entire show is just for fun, but there is a message, which is the rallying point for our audience. It’s not the ‘silent passage’ anymore. Menopause is a passage. Yes, we are aging, but we have earned the right to be who and what we are."

Linders was 52 when she put the show together. Heeding the writer’s motto, she wrote what she knew. She put all of the symptoms of menopause on a board and then flipped through her record collection. Just as Forbidden Broadway calls upon familiarity with original theater songs to drive its humor, Menopause draws on the musical glory days of its audience.

The numbers — with satirical lyrics set to borrowed songs — both make fun of getting older and assert pride in being comfortable with one’s body. Written with wisecracking wit, the song lyrics range from slick to idiotic.

A sampling of Linders’ work:

The sequence dealing with change-induced sleeplessness includes these lyrics sung to the tune of The Lion Sleeps Tonight: "In the guest room or on the sofa, my husband sleeps at night. Outside it is nippy, but I’m hot and drippy. I’m having a hot flash."

Mood swings are the topic of a ditty sung to California Girls. The refrain is, "I wish we all could be sane and normal girls."

Night Fever becomes Night Sweats, Don’t Make Me Over becomes the plastic-surgery anthem Please Make Me Over, Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places is Looking for Food and Puff the Magic Dragon becomes Puff, My God, I’m Draggin’.

"Gotta go, gotta go" is a running gag that allows the women to rush frantically in and out of bathroom stalls, these doors also functioning as other entrances.

A three-piece combo, including drummer, bass guitar and keyboard, provide some great sounds for these dippy songs — even if it is overamplified. Special merit goes to Ginny Adams, whose ever-changing light patterns will keep your eyes wide open. Yes, this is a musical, but the buffoonery on stage — the cavorting, strutting, posturing and mugging — can hardly be called dance.

This show is definitely a ladies’ night out. The play serves as a form of group therapy for women. But the producers might as well post a sign on the playhouse door warning men to keep out, as most who attend are likely to feel as if they are crashing a women’s party. I was one of three men in the packed audience and the women next to me asked, "What are you doing here?"

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 laughs at the public mention of the once-taboo gender conditions.

Menopause the Musical
Tuesdays through Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 p.m.
and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
Society Hill Playhouse
507 S. Eighth St.
Tickets: $42.50