"Mid-Life: The Crisis Musical" is a clever, witty, often hilarious look at the nature of aging, from the embarrassment of thinning hair and love handles to the indignities of mammograms and prostate exams to more serious concerns like Alzheimer's and infirmity.
It's a small cabaret-type musical in the vein of "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" and "Shopping: The Musical," with a versatile cast of six playing countless characters backed by a pianist. And in the hands of Crown Uptown Theatre, it's an intimate and thoroughly enjoyable experience.
This is a Wichita premiere, written by Broadway veterans Bob and Jim Walton, a brother team whose "Double Trouble" was premiered in Wichita before heading to larger markets 15 years ago. This show, premiered in New York in 2004, is their third collaboration. The two have smart, internal rhyme schemes that give texture and substance to lyrics (think Sondheim), but their music is light, hummable and, occasionally, hauntingly beautiful, particularly "The Long Good-bye" about children caring for elderly parents.
Opening night started out a little shaky as the cast was feeling out the audience, trying to judge where the laughs would come concerning the somewhat touchy — but truthful — issues. But as the audience warmed and responded, the cast grew more confident — and a bit nervy. By the finale, which ends on a positive, thoughtful note about growing older, all barriers to fun were down.
All six actor-singers, under veteran director Mike Roark, had highlight moments, but I have to admit that Craig Green stole the show. His scenes tended to be more outrageous, whether choosing a gym outfit straight out of "Flashdance" for basketball with his buddies or acting out some surprising side effects to medication (think Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks on steroids).
Rob Summers also deserved the spotlight with his beautiful lament about his lost love: his hair. And Mark Clark made a diabolically funny doctor (think Frankenstein or "Rocky Horror") for a mammogram that spoofed a magic act where the woman is put in a box and then pierced with swords.
All three women — Paula Makar, Stacy Clark and Tara Tucker — stopped the show as three triumphant divorcees strutting their seductive stuff in "He Got What He Deserved" (think "Chicago"), choreographed by Tucker, who made a splash as the merry murderess Velma in "Chicago" last year.
Music director and pianist Rich Bruhn was mostly unobtrusive background accompaniment, but he got a chance to stand out with some impressive flourishes for "Classical Menopause" supporting the entire ensemble as a tongue-in-cheek choir.
While the show is handled simply with a single, sort of game show set, it was given an elegant look through costumes by Shawn Sturdevant, who put the six in black trousers and skirts topped with plain, bright tops for a cohesive but colorful concert-type look between specialty numbers.
If you go
'Mid-Life: The Crisis Musical'
What: Wichita premiere of musical comedy about joys and perils of aging
Where: Crown Uptown Theatre, 3207 E. Douglas
When: Thursday-Sunday through Aug. 15
How much: Tickets: $26.95-$33.95 (plus tax); includes buffet meal. Call 316-681-1566.