Arts & Culture

Different stages of womanhood explored in ‘All Ways a Woman’

The world has changed a lot in the seven years since Cabaret Oldtown last presented its popular, locally written musical comedy “Menopaus-A-Palooza.”

And co-writer/director Christi Moore says that it’s high time to revisit this musical celebration about the journeys – both physical and emotional — in a woman’s life.

Especially, says Moore, since the theater closed its second run of the show in 2006 with a waiting list of about 1,100 people still wanting to see it.

“It’s been long enough that now seemed like the right time to bring it back, but we decided to freshen it up,” she says, beginning with a new, less in-your-face, more inclusive title: “All Ways a Woman.”

“When we did it before, Facebook wasn’t much of a force. And the term ‘cougar’ about an older woman dating a younger man wasn’t really in the language — to give a couple of examples,” Moore says.

“The premise of the show is still the same, with four women meeting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office and sharing their stories with each other,” she says. “But so many social details of our lives are different now that it was time for an update.”

Playing the women are veteran local actresses Mary Lou Phipps-Winfrey, Angela Geer, Barb Schoenhofer and Moore, who will also direct. The four are also co-writers along with Cary Hesse (who performed in the original) plus contributions from local radio personality and playwright Carol Hughes, theater owner and actress Patty Reeder and Cabaret’s resident designer and actor Monte Wheeler.

The four women are unnamed, representing Everywoman at different stages of life. Moore plays a mom coping with a teen daughter; Schoenhofer is the resident cougar; Geer is a businesswoman who put career ahead of personal relationships; and Phipps-Winfrey is the grandmother who has seen it all before.

They perform 20 songs, from the anthemic “I Am Woman” and “Natural Woman” to “It’s My Party” and “PMS Blues.” There are also some outrageous parodies like “I Did It With Midol” to the tune of “I Did It My Way” and “Hysterectomy” to Greg Kihn Band’s “Jeopardy.”

“It’s a real bonding experience, both for the actors on stage and the women in the audience,” Moore says. “Although it’s a women-centric show, we discovered that men like it, too, because it gives them insight into their wives, mothers, sisters and friends. It has a lot of meaning, but it’s also a lot of fun.”

Phipps-Winfrey describes her character as “mature” and “no-nonsense” and someone who wants “all women to believe in themselves and be proud of being a woman.”

“I like characters who are feisty and strong-willed. She has experienced all the phases of being a woman and is the voice of knowledge in the play – even if the voice is a little sarcastic,” Phipps-Winfrey says. “I can relate to her because she and I are close in age and temperament. However, she is gray-haired in the play and as long as there is dye on the shelf, I will never be gray.”

Schoenhofer helped create her cougar character originally based on experiences from her own life. After years of popping in and out of town for acting jobs around the country while raising her son in Wichita, she resumed a full-time national acting career last year when he graduated.

Geer is also quick to note that “All Ways a Woman” isn’t a “man-bashing experience – although we do get in a few harmless jabs.”

Of her driven businesswoman persona, Geer says she likes the character’s quick wit, which she patterned after several strong women she’s known – especially her mother.

“I draw her wittiness from my mother. She was a very funny woman and always shared funny stories she experienced working as a cardiac care and emergency room nurse,” Geer says. “We were extremely close and I got my sense of humor from her.”

In one of show’s highlights, Geer delivers the prophetic and dramatic “I Am Changing” (from “Dreamgirls”) to encapsulate the theme of the show.

“It’s a power ballad that is introspective, poignant and surprisingly emotional to her – and to me,” Geer says. “This show is a complete labor of love that was created and nurtured with a great group of people that are so dear to me.”

Accompanying the singers are music director Rich Bruhn on keyboards with Ron Smith on guitar, John Probst on bass, and Steve Hatfield on drums. Set and costumes are by Monte Wheeler.