In the hot (flash) seat

Times Staff Writer

Sixty women for every man? That's the kind of ratio that a guy might find appealing.

Until you tell him that he's going to "Menopause the Musical."

At a recent preview at the Coronet Theatre, there were at least 200 women in the audience, and only three men. Including me. And really, I was there for work.

This is the same theater that has hosted such productions as "The Vagina Monologues" and "Puppetry of the Penis." But at those shows, the gender imbalance wasn't nearly as lopsided as it was here.

Radio ads for "Vagina" made an explicit attempt to attract men -- and succeeded to some extent. At the performance of "Penis" that I saw, the voyeurs were of both sexes about evenly.

At "Menopause," however, it's virtually wall-to-wall women. Most are ages 40 to 60, and their mood is undeniably "girls' night out." Said one of the women in a group of four: "We want to laugh at this misfortune we have to go through." Her friend added: "The men live with it, but they don't want to see it onstage."

Ah, but some brave men venture where others fear to tread -- in fact, at least one is required for the show to be complete.

About two-thirds of the way through the first of two previews I saw, actress Rende Rae Norman launched into a sultry solo to the tune of "Heat Wave" but with these lyrics: "I'm having a hot flash / A tropical hot flash / My personal summer is really a bummer."

As she stepped down from the stage into the audience, suddenly I realized she was eyeing me as she sidled across the room. Was she lured by my magnetism? Not quite -- of the three men, I was the only one adjacent to the aisle.

Norman began kneading my bald pate with her fingers as she sang, "Gee, my anatomy makes mercury / Jump to one-oh-three." The spotlight must have made the top of my head even shinier than usual. And who says middle-aged men don't know what it feels like to be all flushed?

After the show, one of the departing theatergoers pointed me out to her companions. "Look," she said, "there's the plant." A man, alone at "Menopause the Musical?" Of course, she assumed I was in cahoots with the cast.

Jeanie Linders, the show's writer and producer, acknowledges that about 95% of her show's audience is female -- and at least 70% is over 40. Her show "isn't about theater," she says. "It's about women." But she also maintains that "once the guys are there, they don't hate it."

Now there's a ringing endorsement.

The show depicts four menopausal women meeting at a Bloomingdale's lingerie counter during a sale: Power Woman, Soap Star, Earth Mother and Iowa Housewife. "Each of them is a part of my personality," Linders says.

They sing and dance a series of songs set to familiar pop melodies -- most of more recent vintage than the 1933 "Heat Wave" -- with new, comic lyrics about middle-aged malaise.

The first glimmer of "Menopause the Musical" occurred during "a killer hot flash" that Linders, now 55, experienced seven years ago while dining with a female friend at a seafood restaurant in Orlando, Fla. Suddenly, the Rod Stewart tune "Hot Legs" popped into her head but with the lyrics "Hot Flash."

She started doodling other lyrics on a napkin, while her friend "looked at me like I was insane," but she didn't really do anything with her idea until 1999, after she saw the long-running San Francisco hit revue "Beach Blanket Babylon." She bought a record player for $10 so she could play her old 45s at her home in Hot Springs, Ark., and began reshaping the lyrics into comments on menopause.

'Humor replacement therapy'

Linders took her script with her to Orlando when she moved later that year. A veteran of advertising, PR and event production, she converted a former perfume shop into an 86-seat theater and booked her own show.

It opened in April 2000, moved to Palm Beach two months later and played in Florida for more than a year. It opened off-Broadway in 2001, and it's still there as well as in four other cities. A company that visited Brea's Curtis Theatre this fall is touring as well.

Sure, Linders says, the book is light and the dialogue is merely a bridge between songs, but the goal is to provide "humor replacement therapy" that'll make women feel more normal. "In menopause, you feel so disconnected. Here, you feel connected. You don't feel crazy."

For the show's grand finale, the actresses -- who are required to be at least age 40 and size 10 -- persuade dozens of women in the audience to come up on stage for a giant kick line. Linders wanted a kick line "so there are people to hold on to."

Of course, when she says "people," she really means "women." I had the feeling that if I had tried to join the kick line, the kicks would have been aimed in my direction.

At another preview, the men numbered about 10. Tony and Betty Franklin of Westminster and Alan and Norma Wills of Calabasas had come as a foursome. It was Tony Franklin who first noticed the publicity for the show but Betty who thought it sounded hilarious.

"I make all the decisions in the house," Tony joked, "and she told me I had to be here. I'd rather go to the show across the street." What's across La Cienega? A strip club that advertises "TOTALLY NUDE GIRLS."

After the performance, though, all four enthusiastically endorsed the show. The men reported being slightly miffed by a female theatergoer who told them on the way out, "Gentlemen, you're out of place." Alan Wills said he might buy one of the show's souvenir T-shirts that says "I've changed!" and wear it stuffed with balloons over his chest.

That might have solved my other problem. After the show I wanted to use the men's room off the lobby, but at both performances, a long line of women curled out of the men's room.

So here's my first consumer tip for those men who brave "Menopause the Musical": There's another restroom, with a urinal and no lines, in the bar on the other side of the Coronet courtyard.

My second tip: Avoid the aisle seat.

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