Ladies' Room 

Menopause the Musical is a triumph of targeting a niche. Middle-aged women buy the most theater tickets, so putting on a musical pep rally about the "change of life" makes good business sense.

An off-Broadway hit, this evening of several dozen numbingly obvious song spoofs currently plays to packed houses at 14th Street Playhouse. Menopause may be a requirement for you to enjoy it.

Four dissimilar women of a certain age meet at Bloomingdale's and bond over their biological changes. Menopausal symptoms inspire rewritten lyrics and the requisite dance steps: Insomnia leads to the disco-style "Stayin' Awake" and John Travolta moves; weight issues prompt "Lookin' for Food in All the Wrong Places" and country line dances. Menopause hinges on jokes you instantly get and would be a stretch to fill a nine-minute song medley. Yet, somehow, the show drags on for 10 times that duration.

Blame the director and choreographer for the campy footwork and overloud, over-the-top performances, which feel gratingly forced and caricatured. It's as if the four actresses are following orders to play to the back row. Of a stadium. Filled with non-English speakers.

The characters don't have proper names but are capitalized in the program, a la "Soap Star." Some players eventually warm up with moments of appealing physical comedy. Mary Kathryn Kaye's straight-laced Iowa Housewife cuts loose with a pantomime drum solo. Ingrid Cole's hippie Earth Mother sprays perfume into the air, then tries to catch it under her arm. As the corporate Power Woman, Valerie Payton shows off some truly impressive vocal pipes and a hilarious impersonation of a certain rock diva. But while Lynna Schmidt's vain Soap Star sings "Tropical Hot Flash" like Marilyn Monroe, she never finds her physical comfort zone. For the dances and slapstick moves, she maintains a rigid posture and juts her limbs at unnatural angles, like Candice Bergen in a body cast.

Reminiscent of how bachelorettes flocked to Naked Boys Singing!, Menopause the Musical brings out their middle-aged mothers in even greater solidarity. As a guy, I'll never go through menopause, and I'm clearly a party-crasher at the show. But I can't imagine I'd be any more entertained by a similar musical about, say, prostate trouble. Like Menopause the Musical, it could use toilet flushes for punch lines.

Menopause the Musical. Through July 27. 14th Street Playhouse, 173 14th St. Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. $42.50. 404-733-4750.


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