Not just another hot flash in pan

Special to The Times

Never underestimate the power of a niche market. Jeanie Linders hasn't. She has seen her creation "Menopause the Musical" swell from humble origins in a Florida shoebox theater into an off-Broadway smash. In addition to numerous U.S. and Canadian productions, "Menopause" openings are planned in Australia and the U.K.

Inevitably, the show has now arrived in Los Angeles. On opening night at the Coronet Theatre, the audience was composed almost entirely of women of a "certain age."

Considering the sheer number of female baby boomers who are approaching, enduring or completing menopause, it's no wonder that Linders' brainchild enjoys a built-in audience. However, other shows, such as Lina Gallegos' "Is It Hot in Here ... or Is It Just Me?," winding down its run at the Egyptian Arena, have mined the same topic without the same degree of success.

The reason may be as simple as supreme silliness. Set entirely in New York's Bloomingdale's department store, "Menopause" concerns four diverse women who meet in the lingerie department and swap stories about "the change."

From that scant premise, Linders strings together a series of parody songs, melding her own original lyrics with Top 40 hits, mostly from the '60s and '70s.

The result is more reminiscent of a Greek Week sorority pageant than a play -- and as an exercise in sisterhood, pure and simple, it is undeniably effective.

Linders' high-concept enterprise may have legs, but structurally speaking, it's weak in the knees. Lyrics like "Puff, My God, I'm Draggin'," set to the tune of "Puff the Magic Dragon," won't cause Stephen Sondheim to lose sleep.

Fortunately, that whiff of intrinsic amateurism is largely blown away by the solidly professional efforts of director-choreographer Patty Bender and her gifted cast, which includes Rende Rae Norman as a fading soap star, Lisa Robinson as a perky Iowa housewife, Myra McWethy as an unreconstructed hippie and Michele Mais as a powerful business executive. All are fresh, funny and simply terrific, but it is the remarkable Mais -- with her soulful, rapturously booming voice -- who whips the occasionally meager material into a gale-force entertainment.


'Menopause the Musical'

Where: Coronet Theatre, 366 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood

When: Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 5 and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.

Ends: Runs indefinitely

Price: $42.50

Contact: (310) 657-7377

Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

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