While I have no doubt that women who've experienced "the change" - and the men who've experienced it with them - will better appreciate the humor in the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's latest, Menopause: The Musical offers a lot of entertainment that transcends that particular life experience. Filled with comically altered lyrics of popular, mostly 1960s songs, the familiar melodies, energetic rhythms, and notable performances from the cast of four had Friday's audience on its feet at the end of the production.
With its book and lyrics by Jeanie Linders, Circa '21's musical is a celebration, so to speak, of the effects of menopause - hot flashes, sudden emotional highs and lows, memory loss, and beyond. Linders parodies popular songs to share the experience, turning "Stayin' Alive" into "Stayin' Awake," and the "it's in his kiss" lyrics from "The Shoop, Shoop Song" into "it's on my hips." My favorite lyrics, however, were the ones found in "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," with Linders highlighting the moodiness of menopause. Her lyrics "in the great room, or on the sofa, my husband sleeps tonight" are accompanied by a rhythmic chorus of "she's a witch, she's a witch, she's a bitch, she's a bitch" instead of "wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh."
Directed by Seth Greenleaf, Menopause: The Musical transcends its seemingly specific appeal thanks to a spectacular cast. Whitney Hayes' aptly named "Professional Woman" brings down the house with her renditions of "I'm Flashing (Reprise)" and "What's Love Got to Do With It?" Erin Fish nicely mixes a haughty air with humor as "Soap Star," the actress who's all too aware that she's about to be replaced. Megan Opalinski is the quintessential "Earth Mother," from her oft-used, meditative hand gestures and accompanying "ohm"s to the airy blouse, flowing, patterned skirt, and layers of beaded necklaces provided by costume designer Sue Hill. It was Eleonore Thomas, however, who really stole my heart as the awkward "Iowa Housewife," with her endearingly quick-stepped, shuffling sort of waddle. Thomas earns hearty laughs throughout the show, delivering a hilarious depiction of a sci-fi robot, a side-splitting attempt at squeezing into lingerie, and an all-too-brief channeling of Cher.
Scenic designer Bud Clark's beautiful backdrop of Bloomingdales' New York City department store is a row of ornate, 1920s-style elevator doors that sometimes also serve as the doors to bathroom stalls, with different set pieces - a purse rack, a table and chairs, bathroom mirrors - placed in front of them to depict different floors in the store. And choreographer Patty Bender's high-energy dance steps, often reminiscent of backup singers' doo-wop moves, add even more color to the production through their infectious excitement.
Boasting no particular plot beyond its four women randomly meeting at Bloomingdales and lamenting "the change," Menopause: The Musical could easily have fallen flat. Yet while, thematically, an intermission-less hour-and-a-half of menopause jokes does feel like a conceit stretched a bit thin, Circa '21's production is so full of fun - with the most fun reserved for the final scenes of the show - that even someone such as myself, who will never experience menopause, can be entertained.
Menopause: The Musical runs at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse (1828 Third Avenue, Rock Island) through August 10, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)786-7733 extension 2 or visiting Circa21.com.