Fredena Williams jokes that “Menopause the Musical” is “the cheapest therapy you can buy” in dealing with the hot flashes, mood swings, forgetfulness, night sweats and chocolate cravings that hit many woman of a certain age.
“It lets people laugh at themselves and what they’re going through – or about to go through,” said Williams, one of four actresses who are bringing the national tour of the 2001 hit musical to Century II’s Mary Jane Teall Theater for two performances.
“Many times afterward, women will come up and tell how much they appreciate the show because it helps take away the stress by being able to laugh at it. I’m having a blast performing it because I know from my own experience where they’re coming from,” Williams said.
Created by Jeanie Linders, who says that the musical was “inspired by a hot flash and a bottle of wine,” the show is about the bonding of four very different women who find themselves at a Bloomingdale’s lingerie sale tussling over the same bra. The only thing they have in common is The Change, but that’s enough, over the course of 90 minutes, to form a powerful sisterhood to help each not just survive, but thrive.
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The music is all parodies of popular tunes from the 1960s through the 1980s that Linders has taken delightful and often outrageous liberties with, such as “Change of Life” to the tune of “Chain of Fools,” “I’m Having a Hot Flash” to the tune of “We’re Having a Heat Wave” and “Oh My God I’m Draggin’” to “Puff the Magic Dragon.”
With its universal human truths, the show has played in more than 450 cities across America as well as in 15 countries, including some unexpected spots like Latvia, Estonia and Cuba. It’s even become the longest-running scripted show in Las Vegas history.
Williams, a South Carolina native who now calls Lakeland, Fla., home between tours, has been with the show for eight of its 12 years, playing the character known simply as “Professional Woman.”
“She’s the one who takes care of business, the go-to person who can handle anything. She thinks she is so powerful that she can even control her hot flashes. Of course, she finds out that she can’t. And that makes her feel vulnerable for the first time,” said Williams, who has also sung with the Boston Pops as well as singers like Barry Manilow, Patti LaBelle and Arlo Guthrie.
“She has to learn to embrace the change, not fight it. I can identify with Professional Woman because, like her, I’m not married and I don’t have children. I’ve been focused on my career,” Williams said. “My mom taught me to live life to its fullest with no regrets. That’s what I’ve been doing.”
Cherie Price, who calls Portland, Ore., home when not on the road, has played “Soap Star” for about seven years.
“She’s pretty self-indulgent. She’s been pampered all her life and was a TV personality in her 20s. Now that she’s getting older, she’s not sure how to cope with it – and that panics her a little. She’s a little edgy, a little bitchy. She’s ripe for plastic surgery,” said Price, whose career has taken her from cruise ships to performing with the Seattle and Portland Symphonies to her one-woman cabaret show about the girl singers of the Big Band Era.
“She’s not me. We probably wouldn’t be friends because she’s too selfish. But she’s a piece of me. I’m an actress who’s getting older and I’m concerned about what to do. Do I panic? Do I deal? Will I know when to stop wearing miniskirts? Am I comfortable with where I’m going?” Price said.
“What’s appealing about my character is that she is willing to step back and take a real look at herself. She’s never had a close girl friend and now she has a chance to find out what that’s like,” Price said.
Playing “Iowa Housewife” is Teri Adams, a native of Wichita who has been living and performing in the Kansas City area for more than 20 years and twice was a featured soloist at the Kennedy Center.
“I’m really partial to playing her because she’s the most naive of the four women. She so badly wants to be accepted. She’s the one who makes the greatest transition from life’s little lessons during the show,” said Adams, who has played the role since 2006.
Adams says she appreciates the message of “Menopause the Musical” even more now because of her own brush with breast cancer in 2008, which caused her to drop out for two years for treatment. She rejoined the tour in 2010.
There’s a stable of three or four actresses cast in each of the four roles who can step in for each other if necessary, Adams said. That allows performers stability to stay rooted in their home communities and the flexibility to perform in other venues between tour assignments.
“What I love about ‘Menopause’ is that the cast is like a family. I was able to step back in when I was ready. It was so welcoming,” Adams said.
“When I first joined the show, I was really a little young for the role because I hadn’t experienced hot flashes or anything myself. But after my breast cancer and the chemotherapy, I became familiar with all the huffin’ and puffin’. I knew exactly what the show was talking about,” Adams said.
Rounding out the cast as “Earth Mother” since 2008 is Valerie Mackey, a native Californian and second-generation performer transplanted to Kansas City. Her voice is on national commercial jingles, as back-up singer on several CDs and she appeared in the Merchant-Ivory film, “Mr. and Mrs. Bridges,” filmed on location in Kansas City. She’s also artistic director of Theatre for Young America, which has performed children’s shows in Wichita.
“‘Earth Mother’ is a product of the ’60s and Woodstock whose every goal is peace. She’s the peacemaker of the group. But when the hormonal change hits, she’s trying to figure how to make peace with that,” Mackey said with a laugh.
“I love playing her because I’m naturally a peacemaker myself. I love people. Her lines come so naturally for me. Yeah, that’s what I’d say in the same situations. She’s very me,” Mackey said.
What pleases Mackey is that young women and also men have found the show just as fun and relevant as the targeted middle-age female audience.
“Some young women go through the change early. I had a 32-year-old come up and say the show really meant something because it made sense to her and she felt so much better because of it. It was more than entertainment, it was a healing,” Mackey said.
“There was also a young man in his 20s in military uniform who brought his mom to one show, then came back to another with his aunt, and then came back a third time with his girlfriend,” Mackey said. “He said he loved it because it helped him understand the women in his life.”