Time for the Change

Prescription for Laughter

For a diagnosis of "Menopause The Musical," we went to the experts: three local gynecologists. The results are in:

"I loved it. The show is truly a celebration, focusing on how menopause is a collective experience that spans all cultures and races. I like the fact that the characters emerge with wisdom and strength of conviction, laughing along the way."

— Michele Colangelo, D.O., 33

obstetrician and gynecologist

Fairview Hospital

"The show did a great job of addressing the whole issue of body image, a women's issue that becomes really critical during menopause. The characters give validation to the changing roles women experience with their parents, children and significant others as they get older. The stress and poignancy that occurs at this time of life was also effectively conveyed."

— Dianne Schubeck, M.D., 45

staff physician,

obstetrics and gynecology

MetroHealth Medical Center

"It's very, very down to earth in terms of [describing] the life experiences of women, not just the hot flashes but the disturbances in memory women complain of. The show presents an opportunity for women to laugh at themselves and their predicament. I recommend that men see it, too, so they understand what's going on."

— James Liu, M.D., 51

chairman, department of obstetrics and gynecology and department of reproductive biology

University MacDonald Women's Hospital

Here's a hot flash for you: The Change of Life isn't "The Silent Passage" anymore. It's now a joyous and slightly irreverent romp called "Menopause The Musical."

Conceived and penned by Florida playwright Jeanie Linders, "Menopause" has begun an open-ended engagement at Playhouse Square Center's 14th Street Theatre (the space formerly occupied by The Second City).

The no-holds-barred songfest parodies all that goes with that notorious time in every woman's life to the tune of two-dozen baby-boomer classics. Each has a new spin: "Chain of Fools," for example, is now an ode about the "Change, Change, Change -- Change of Life," "Stayin' Alive" laments another sleepless night of "Stayin' Awake" and it's a "Sign of the Times" "when your roots are gray and your mem'ry's shorter."

The tale is told through the experiences of four women with seemingly nothing in common — an aging soap-opera star, a former hippie, a businesswoman and an Iowa housewife — who meet at a Bloomingdale's lingerie sale. A squabble over a black lace bra quickly turns to camaraderie as the women commiserate over memory loss, night sweats, overactive bladders, wrinkles and food cravings.

"People tell me the musical has brought menopause out of the closet," Linders says. "I call the show humor relief therapy: When you're sitting in an audience of 300 women and they're all laughing and screaming, •Yes, that's me!' then you know you're not crazy."

The show's popularity is soaring. It's been playing off-Broadway for three years in New York and is earning a following during runs in Detroit, Chicago, Kansas City, Boston, Los Angeles and Orlando. This summer, it's headed to Hong Kong and Singapore.

Linders attributes the musical's success to its recognizable score and the "everywoman" personalities the characters evoke. "I tell my cast that there are five girlfriends in this room — four of them are onstage and the fifth is in the audience," she says.

That philosophy holds true here, as the principals are no strangers to Cleveland audiences: Tina D. Stump starred in "Amen Corner" at the Cleveland Play House. Maryann Nagel narrates children's programs for the Cleveland Orchestra. Dyan Beder has performed with Medina's Show Biz Company, and June Lang became famiglia as the mother of the bride in "Tony 'n Tina's Wedding."

A portion of the proceeds from Cleveland ticket sales will be donated to University Hospitals' Ireland Cancer Center and University MacDonald Women's Hospital.

"Menopause The Musical" is the newest addition to a spate of rite-of-passage shows that have taken center stage at Playhouse Square. "Tony 'n Tina's Wedding" enjoyed a two-year run of more than 800 performances. Earlier this year, "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change," chronicling the ups and downs of the mating game, opened at the Hanna Theatre.

"Shows like these have always been around," explains Gina Vernaci, Playhouse Square Center's director of programming. "What's new is that we now have space to accommodate them. Small theaters like [the Hanna and 14th Street Theatre] allow us to create an evening of fun for a smaller group. It's essentially like hosting a fairly large wedding reception.

"Here, you're shoulder to shoulder with other members of the audience and the performers. The person in the front row and the person in the back row are essentially having the same experience.

"The audience leaves 'Menopause The Musical' so charged, they could light Vegas," Vernaci says.

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