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When "Menopause The Musical" first played the Garde Arts Center in 2003, the show was enjoying its first blushes of success: the comic musical had conquered off-Broadway the previous year and was starting to tour the U.S.
"Menopause The Musical" returns to the Garde for performances this weekend, and, in between those New London stops, this little musical by Jeanie Linders has been on quite a journey - literally. It has been done around the world, from Asia to Australia to South Africa.
Beyond the sheer expanse of the production's reach, the biggest things that director Seth Greenleaf has seen change over time have been the market's perception toward the show and the world's perception toward menopause in general. At the time the show began, he says, "menopause" was like saying a semi-dirty term. Now, people are likely to laugh when they hear the word. He thinks the show has been a force in that change.
Way back then, too, the producers sometimes had to fly theater owners and artistic directors to see performances of "Menopause the Musical" to get them to book the show. This was, after all, a jukebox musical by a first-time writer, and there were some preconceived notions that, because of the title, this was a one-trick pony - a punchline of a musical, Greenleaf says.
"It wasn't until (bookers) saw the show with an audience that they really understood how much this was a movement as much as it was a theater piece," he says.
One of the show's actresses, Kim Harris, calls it a ministry. People who see "Menopause the Musical" want to share it with others and spread the word. They see the production surrounded by women who have gone through the same things. The subjects are brought into the light with laughter - lots and lots of laughter.
In "Menopause The Musical," four very dissimilar women fight over a bra sale. They find they have something in common - menopause. Let the bonding begin. They frame their travails in the form of top-40 tunes. Meaning that "Stayin' Alive" is sung with the lyrics "Stayin' awake." And "Puff the Magic Dragon" morphs into "Puff, my God, I'm dragging."
The seeds of the idea for "Menopause The Musical" grew when Linders was having dinner with friends at a restaurant - and suddenly felt a hot flash. The Rod Stewart song "Hot Legs" immediately popped into her head, recast with the lyrics "Hot Flash."
The former ad exec built that little idea into a full-fledged production.
Greenleaf's company, GFour Productions, has produced major shows - such as Broadway's current "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" and the "Glengarry Glen Ross" revival starring Al Pacino - but he's never seen the kind of reaction "Menopause The Musical" gets.
Greenleaf loves experiencing the show with an audience. "Menopause The Musical" is a unique phenomenon.
"It's just healing. That's the thing I love the most about it. Those women are different when they leave the theater than when they went in," he says.
And, he says, "It's kind of the most fun you can have in the theater."
"Menopause The Musical,"
8 p.m. Friday and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Garde Arts Center, 325 State St., New London; $35-$49; (860) 444-7373, gardearts.org.