Menopause the Musical

Civic Theatre, cnr of Queen Street & Wellesley Street West, Auckland

11/08/2006 - 10/09/2006

Opera House, Wellington

31/01/2007 - 18/02/2007

Production Details

By Jeanie Linders
Directed by Gary Young
Choreography by Andrew Hallsworth

It might be an unusual topic for a musical, but for Jeanie Linders the shared experience of menopause for women the world over was inspiration for her hit production, Menopause The Musical.

With the baby boomer generation of women firmly in its sights, the musical centres on four women at a department store lingerie sale. Through their shared commonalities—a black lace bra, hot flashes, night sweats, memory loss, chocolate binges, not enough sex, too much sex—they bring humour and humanity to the experience of menopause.

“Most women know intuitively every other woman is experiencing the memory loss or night sweats or hot flashes,” says Linders.

“They talk about it with their friends and, on occasion, with their spouses. But, when they’re in a theatre with hundreds of women all shouting “that’s me!” then they know what they are experiencing is normal. They aren’t crazy; they call it a sisterhood.”

The production’s first night was held in 2001 in Orlando, Florida, in a tiny 76-seat theatre. Since then, a grassroots movement has arisen out of the musical’s success. This movement deals with the needs and interests of more than 38-million women worldwide who are on the brink of, going through, or have been through ‘The Change’.

The musical, however, sticks with humour, entertainment and parodies of 25 classics from the baby-boomer era—songs with lyrics tweaked to fit the menopausal theme.

It’s impossible not to laugh, according to the New York Times.

Angela Ayres
Caroline Gilmer
Jennifer Vuletic
Carolyn Waddell

Dan Antunovich, Chris Grant and Simon Walter

Theatre , Musical ,

1hr 30mins, no interval

Slickly presented fun

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 02nd Feb 2007

At the end of the non-stop ninety minute Menopause a great number of the audience (mainly women but with a goodly sprinkling of men) was up on its feet applauding and cheering while fifty or so women were up on the stage dancing and singing along with the four indefatigable stars: Angela Ayers, Caroline Gillmer, Jennifer Vuletic and Carolyn Waddell.

The show is described as a musical but that implies there’s a plot and there isn’t even a pretense of one. It’s a good, old fashioned revue about bodily decrepitude, and one way of coping with this depressing, inevitable fact is to laugh at it all in the presence of others.

This show wouldn’t work on TV. This is theatre providing a community service: you’re not alone, everyone has these problems, and the best way to cope, as Jeanie Linders said, with HRT is with Humour Relief Therapy.

The problems are all too familiar: the Change, wrinkles, hot flushes, night sweats, dieting, chocolate binges, memory loss, mood swings, fading eyesight, sagging breasts, the necessity for a loo to be close at hand, and the lack of sleep, sex and the correct size of underwear.

Menopause first appeared in Florida in 2001 and has been produced in nine countries so far (opens in London in March) and has been adapted for each country. So the four stereotypes representing the Sisterhood – a relic of the 60s (Carolyn Waddell), an actress (Jennifer Vuletic), a suburban housewife (Angela Ayers) and a smart business woman (Caroline Gillmer) – all meet at the Kirkcaldie and Stains sale and the many local references include Nicky Watson, Palmerston North, and Shortland and Cuba Streets.

What holds the evening together is the personalities of the four very funny, very talented actresses and singers, each of whom has her moment to shine individually. Angela Ayers nearly stops the show each time her Manawatu housewife gets caught short as she moves snail-like and then cheetah-like towards the loo, while Caroline Gillmer’s impersonation of a famous, aged pop star, Jennifer Vuletic’s breathy impersonation of Marilyn and Caroline Waddell’s Earth Mother’s efforts at keeping fit do the same.

It’s slickly presented, fun, light and frothy, garnished with numerous old pop songs with their lyrics suitably altered. The Great Pretender is now all about covering up one’s failing memory and it shouldn’t take you long to work out what Irving Berlin’s Heatwave is doing in this show.


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Celebrating the unmentionable

Review by John Smythe 01st Feb 2007

You can’t argue with a standing ovation and hoards of Baby Boomer women storming the stage to bop to ‘This Is Your Day’ (tune: ‘YMCA’). Come to that, you can’t argue with a menopausal woman … But assuming the key perpetrators of Menopause the Musical are post-‘the change’, I might just venture a fearless observation or three.

Familiar tunes and witty rewrites of the popular lyrics delivered by four consummate performers with great voices – in solo, ensemble, fronting or backing – on an intimate subject that touches everyone (if not first hand, then by virtue of being the partner, sibling or child of a menopausal woman) make for a winning formula.

It may well be beside the point, therefore, to note Menopause the Musical‘s failure to give its four characters three dimensions (they don’t even have names, just cliché identities) let alone explore their relationships within some kind of narrative structure. This is sketch theatre, playing out variations on a single theme, and as such perfectly valid …

Except when one recalls how much more insightful, moving, hilarious, rewarding and thus entertaining the Sarah Delahunty/Michelle Scullion musical Life Lines was (which premiered at Circa Studio in November 2002), it seems unjust somehow that this should get more mileage. But I said the same about the wonderful Delahunty / Scullion Stretchmarks too, in comparison to the more commercial Mum’s the Word. Marketing, it seems, is all.

That Menopause The Musical – which premiered in Orlando, Florida in 2001 – was created, written (book and lyrics) and originally produced by an American advertising executive, Jenny Linders, is doubtless the key to its content, style, tone and its marketing success. Her email to “the ladies”, reproduced in the programme, refers to “the MTM mission” and “the MTM sisterhood”. If you think this makes it sound like a team building exercise for born-again women at a self esteem revival camp, you’re not far wide of the mark.

Happily (as with Mum’s the Word) each production and season relocates itself where it plays, so its tone can be modified to relate more directly to its audience. Hence this Wellington season – of an Australian production which originated in Melbourne and played Brisbane and Auckland before being remounted here – now discovers its four women-of-a-certain-age fighting over knickers at the Kirkaldies sale. Subsequent scenes take place in different department, and the Ladies …

Our own songstress Angela Ayres (whose Australian career began in A Chorus Line, and who joined the MTM cast in Brisbane) is The Mousey Housewife from Manawatu venturing into the big smoke. She creases her audience with a visual running gag about being caught short and also wins a well-deserved ovation for her camisole cameo, wherein her fantasy of fitting her ample pink flannelette pyjama-clad bod into a flimsy black see-through ‘teddy’ (which I can never see as sexy) seems to become a momentary reality.

It is a great credit to Ayres that this potentially shallow sketch offers the only heartfelt moment of pathos in the whole show. An ensemble routine involving phone calls to “Mum” – ‘You’re Her Baby’ (to ‘In The Navy’) – reaches towards that but, having traversed some amusing territory, it lapses into sentimentality.

Caroline Gillmer, who originated The Power Woman role in Australia, shines throughout (as you do), not least in sharing the trauma of memory loss at crucial corporate meetings – cue ‘The Great Pretender’. She belts the ballads like the trouper she is in dynamic show-biz style. But unlike the others, except when they are in pastiche mode, she automatically moves from her own voice to an American accent whenever she sings, even when expressing what we’re supposed to take as her personal experiences and private feelings. To me this is the equivalent of a Kiwi Hamlet playing the Dane in his own voice then suddenly adopting an old-style BBC radio voice for the soliloquies.

The ‘lost in space’, sleep-deprived, ex-hippy Earth Mother – described as “from Lower Hutt”: nah, change that to Aro Valley or Makara please – is a constant comic presence in the whimsical persona of Carolyn Waddell. While the others are on Prozac and the like, she relies on St John’s Wart.

As The Soap Star facing wrinkles, facial hair and irregular hot flushes, Jennifer Vuletic takes every opportunity to display her wide range of performing and singing skills. She clearly has the talent and experience to put flesh on her character’s bones but the format is against that. An attempt to involve the audience by coming down into the stalls falls flat because no special lighting is used and the view a full house had is reduced to the purview of just a few. A misguided token gesture.

This links to another strange production decision (presumably by director Gary Young) to only directly address the audience via a disembodied female voice-over that begins by exhorting us to turn our cell phones to vibrate (nudge-nudge) and ends by inviting us to sing along and come up and dance. Why not get the live performers to establish real contact?

Speaking of vibrators, the subject is very coyly handled by using hair brushes as visual euphemisms while the Manawatu Housewife grasps a phoney radio mic with a flesh pink knob on, I think to suggest that ‘Only You’ could either refer to the ‘real thing’ or a battery driven one: take your pick.

I can only suppose that the creator’s advertising industry background steered her away from any mention of lesbians, who of course experience menopause too. Yet given that part of MTM’s success can be attributed to celebrating the unmentionable, it is a strange omission.

To compare it with other shows that have ventured into taboo territory, whereas Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues and Geraldine Brophy’s The Viagra Monologues are steeped in well-researched and all-embracing authenticity, made real through very particular and individualised scenarios, Menopause The Musical makes do with broad brush strokes. But hey, it’s got pop music – which presumably costs them dearly – so what the hell? It’s a party.

A hint of dramatic structure comes at last with the quartet’s metamorphosis into glamorous ladies in black evening frocks: no longer individual but uniform. Sisterhood as sameness? But of course that’s far too analytical for a bit of harmless fun …


neil furby February 2nd, 2007

The last play I saw that used body parts and I enjoyed was Aristophanes “ Lysistrata” where the frustrated men walked about with huge phalluses. It’s been all downhill since then with this mundane obsession with body parts and biological conditions.

Moya Bannerman February 2nd, 2007

Then recommend it to all and sundry, 'Tony'. The longer it runs, the more you'll be able to boycott it.

Gadfly Tony February 2nd, 2007

WHY? WHY? WHY? This is what's wrong with the world. Why are people standing for it? This is proof, if any were needed, that we do not live in any form of meritocracy. I wish I could boycott this show twice.

John Smythe February 2nd, 2007

Geraldine Brophy directed three men exploring a wide range of sex & sexuality-related vulnerabilities in the mis-named Viagra Monologues - and she wrote it too. See the reviews for proof that it's rooted in truth. I disagree that there are gender-based limits on what we can write, direct or perform . Fiction is all about imagining beyond the known, delving deeper into the known, offering fresh perspectives on old topics ... It must be added that men experience female menopause too -their mother's, aunts', sisters', partner(s)', friends' ... And any man who chooses not to achieve some understanding of it is doomed to suffer more than he needs to. That said, MTM does not offer the depth of insight most men would value. It does, however, offer relief, at seeing that women can have a sense of humour about this destablising experience.

Diane Spodarek February 2nd, 2007

A bit of harmless fun? Sisterhood created by an American advertising exec with new words to known hit songs, directed by a man who said in a recent radio interview, 'why did they ask me to direct, I don't know anything about it?' So far I’m not getting out the credit card to see this show. I know how hard it is to put on a show, but women fighting over knickers? After its off-broadway run in New York I got a call from an agent looking to cast the show for its tour. Are you fat? He asked. Why? Because they are only seeing fat actors. Why? Because fat is funnier. Even if I had the qualification, I would have turned it down. Why would I want to work with people who were making money making fun of women? I like to laugh at myself, and I do, but I am at a loss as to what the male equivalent could be. Could I direct four men laughing at not being able to get it up? Reading Smythe's review, I can't imagine how he was able to sit through it.

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More relentless karaoke than a musical

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 20th Aug 2006

Thankfully, I am still a decade away from facing ‘the change’, but there is no denying that many who are experiencing, or have already experienced, menopause will laugh and empathise with the four talented singers/actresses (Angela Ayres, Caroline Gilmer, Jennifer Vuletic and Carolyn Waddell), portraying women from varied backgrounds who are facing the inevitable, in this light and comic offering.

Menopause the Musical relies heavily on reaching this specific target market as, to work, it needs an audience willing and eager to celebrate this collective occurrence. Creator Jeanie Linders’ snappy, neatly packaged interactive event was well received from the opening night audience, indicating they were indeed the perfect fit for this "celebration of women and the Change".

The journey begins when, conveniently; the four meet in a department store. Having established they are all going through ‘the change’, their shared experiences unfold via song. Linders employs a safe device to communicate to her audience, stringing together 90 minutes of well-known hits from past decades, changing the lyrics to spell out her cause. Chain of Fools opens with "Change Change Change", Stand By Your Man becomes "Just Stand And Fan"…. you get the picture… There is not much room for subtlety.

Linders uses a solid formula for her humour too, and of course it’s all adapted for the local audience so Nicky Watson, Shortland Street, and the Waikato, all get a thorough and predictable ribbing.

Although the choreography is slick, (choreography by Andrew Hallsworth), the performances energised and entertaining, (director Gary Young), ultimately it takes more than good tunes and tidy moves to sustain my interest for an entire evening. In fact, I would be more inclined to call this event relentless karaoke, than a musical.

Juxtaposing the popular tunes with substantive story telling might have given the evening the weight it needed to engage me fully. Perhaps I would feel more inclined to care if the stories, and journeys of the characters, had been fully developed or some dramatic tension had been created once they met. As it is, endless light humour and banter about menopause (with the occasional side-step onto the subject of mothers or the size of one’s thighs), act as the bridge from one song to the next.

Essentially, this little musical was built upon a single idea, and for me, it remains relentlessly ‘one-note’ throughout in its message, delivery, humour and pace.

It is never a good sign when a musical opens to reveal only 3 musicians on stage. To their credit, the bass player, (Dan Antunovich), drummer (Chris Grant) and keyboardist (Simon Walter – also Assistant MD), work very hard. But with all the tempos set at such a cracking pace, and without extra musicians, in particular a guitarist, to provide a little more texture, it just becomes too bland and monotonous for my ears.

The vocal strength and dynamic performances of the versatile cast save the musical from becoming trite. Individually, each cast member – Ayres, Gilmer, Vuletic and Waddell – deliver stand out moments. Together, bound by not only by the sisterhood but also by finely tuned craft, vocal ability and acute comic timing, they are fabulous.

Obviously Menopause the Musical is not my cup of tea. However, I was by no means representative of the vast majority around me. They were laughing, singing and having a wonderful night with their girlfriends, sisters and mothers, from beginning to end. When the cast ripped into the finale, "YMCA" (with altered all-embracing-of-the-sisterhood lyrics of course), and invited the audience to share with the group, dozens of women jumped to their feet and ran to the stage to dance, celebrate and feel the love.

So if you feel like a light night of song and dance, this ‘ one act musical set in a large department store’, is for you. Don’t forget to purchase a copy of the souvenir songbook, so you can sing along with every song.


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