Before the Show
The absence of men waiting to enter the theater for Menopause the Musical was undeniable. Even though the show website emphatically states, “Men love it, too!” and expresses how men in the audience “relate and begin to understand this time in their wives’, sisters’, or mothers’ lives.”
I’m pretty sure the men in my area didn’t get the memo.
Menopause the Musical originally opened in Orlando, Florida, in 2001. It ran Off-Broadway for four years and has toured all over the world. With more than 15 years under its belt in Las Vegas, it’s the longest running musical in the city’s history.
I had heard of it when I was younger, but it wasn’t at the top of my list of shows I needed to see. Now in its twenty-second year — and since I am personally and professionally invested in the topic of menopause — I went to see it at a local theatre.
I brought a straight man with me to the show. From my vantage point in the balcony of the 1000-seat theatre, he was one of only three men in the entire place.
As we took our seats among women in the age range of 50 to 80, a woman who appeared to be in her late 60s, enthusiastically said, “This is such a great show! I’ve seen it five times. You’re going to love it!”
She got up, moved closer to us and said to my male friend, Albie, “I applaud you for being here! Not many men come to see this show.” Then she looked at me. “You’re lucky he wanted to come with you!”
He’s lucky I asked him, I thought to myself.
She proceeded to tell me that to fully appreciate the show, I really “needed to purchase the CD.” She said it’s even better when you can listen to it over and over and hear all the words. She had a red boa around her neck and was seated with three friends who all had white hair. I imagined they had been friends for many years before they stopped covering the gray, and this was part of their long-standing Girls’ Night Out.
Next, a fifty-something-year-old woman behind me tapped my shoulder. When I turned around, she looked me straight in the eye and said, “You must be a very powerful woman to get him to come here with you!”
Albie and I laughed at the absurdity of that. He’s very open-minded and will accompany me to anything I invite him to, from sporting events to Broadway musicals. Yet, I was somehow getting the credit for bringing him to the theatre. Interestingly, the first woman who was probably 15 years older than us, said I was lucky he came with me, and the second woman (my age) was in awe of how powerful I was.
During the Show
Menopause the Musical is a 90-minute show without intermission. The emcee actually advises the audience of that beforehand. “In case you need to use the restroom, go now,” she urged. I found that fitting for a group of menopausal women who may be experiencing bladder issues.
On stage, four women from different walks of life — an Iowa housewife; a hippie; a businesswoman; and a former TV soap star — meet at a lingerie sale in Bloomingdale’s. While fighting over a black bra on the sale rack, they soon realize they’re all suffering through various symptoms of menopause, including:
- Sleepless nights
- Hot flashes
- Low sex drive
- Mood swings
- Weight gain
- Frequent urination
So, they do what any average woman would do in their shoes — they sing about it.
With parodies of classic tunes from the 60s through the 80s, the lyrics are catchy; the dialogue is funny. Some of it is stereotypical, and some of it is truly educational. Albie leaned over several times during the play to ask, “Do you experience that?” or “Does this really happen to you?”
When I replied, “Yeah, sometimes.” Or, “Absolutely! I had a hot flash as soon as we sat down in our seats,” he marveled that he had no idea I was experiencing anything out of the ordinary.
Granted, my hot flash was kind of a mini hot flash, and completely tolerable. It ended as quickly as it came on. I didn’t even need to blot sweat from my upper lip.
Over the course of the performance, I’m emotionally moved at the ways these women are desperately trying to make sense of the physical and emotional changes going on in their bodies and their relationships. I’m saddened by the fact that their doctors have prescribed Prozac® for their symptoms, rather than attempting to understand that these women are not just depressed or moody; they’re experiencing a plunge in hormones akin to the flood of hormones they experienced in puberty.
The only difference is that as a society, puberty is understood and socially acceptable. Historically, menopause is neither.
One of the women laments how she tries to hide her hot flashes, so nobody knows she’s having one. She doesn’t want to be seen as inferior or incapable of her job because she sometimes sweats uncontrollably, which is completely normal at this stage of life.
However, nobody seems to understand that. Not least of all, many well-educated, well-meaning healthcare providers who continue to prescribe anti-depressants to women with menopause symptoms instead of addressing the root cause.
The show is funny and entertaining overall, but I’m viewing it from the perspective of someone who is trying to contribute to destigmatizing menopause for future generations, my 17-year-old daughter included. It offends me when they sing about wishing they could be “sane and normal” but since they’re not, they’re happy they have Prozac.
(Note to all: Just because we’re going through The Change, doesn’t mean we’re anything but sane or normal!)
It also bothers me that the grand finale is a transformation of these frumpy, older women into stylish, long-black-gown-wearing women singing, “I’ve got a new attitude!” and “This is your day!” (Sung to the tune of YMCA by the Village People.)
“Really?” I thought. “I just need a new attitude and my menopause symptoms will magically disappear? It’s up to me to CHANGE MY ATTITUDE, instead of getting the help I need to make this natural transition from child-bearing years into permanently shutting down my reproductive organs?”
I’m sure it was not the original intent of the show’s writers and producers to offend me or any other woman. After all, this was groundbreaking material 22 years ago. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way in understanding and talking about menopause since then. But, we still have a long way to go.
What wasn’t lost on me was how these women (and many women I know, personally) are mourning the loss of the “girl I used to be” for the “woman I’ve become.” It’s not all bad, as the cast addresses. They do admit they like the newfound self-confidence and wisdom that comes with getting older, and the ability to take control of some of life’s biggest challenges in ways that work best for them (sex lives included!).
I agree with that, but there definitely are some bittersweet feelings surrounding the image I see of myself in the mirror today compared to the one I saw just 10 years ago.
After the Show
When the show was over, I found myself in line for the bathroom with the same group of white-haired women who sat near us in the theatre, including the one who urged me to buy the CD. She said cheerfully to her girlfriends, “Ya know, I breezed right through menopause. I don’t even remember it being a struggle.” Her friends agreed with her, and I couldn’t help wondering if they’d just blocked it all out now that they were at least 15 years past it.
Over a late dinner, I asked Albie what he thought of the show.
“Eh. It was OK. Some of it was funny. I did learn a few things I had no idea about,” he replied.
I sipped a glass of champagne, perhaps in celebration of the fact that despite my own mother, grandmother, and aunts NEVER speaking of menopause, I felt educated and prepared for what lies ahead.
I decided that woman behind me in the theatre was right. I AM powerful.