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Hot Flashes Are Hilarious in Menopause The Musical at Hobby Center

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The set-up:

Menopause The Musical turns angst into rollicking good humor as four disparate female strangers meet and bond over their common mid-life crises.

The execution:

The set is simplicity itself -- four handsome doors in warm wood paneled with etched glass in an art deco design. Simple props are expeditiously added and subtracted, without slowing the breakneck pace of this surprisingly entertaining vehicle.

The humor is broad, some of the jokes are obvious, some of the material is thin, but none of that matters as the broad humor is delivered with glee, the obvious jokes enhanced by mugging of the first quality, and the thin material fleshed out by performances of such professional caliber that the judgmental brain is commandeered by the laughter gene, and hilarity follows.

There are four characters, identified by their careers, but I mentally gave each a show business name as reference. "Earth Mother" (Sandy Rosenberg) has superb comic timing and an expressive face meant for mugging, and reminded me of Carol Burnett. She is a belter, and can sell a song. "Professional Woman" (Sandra Benton) reminded me of Mahalia Jackson, with a twist of Tina Turner thrown in, and she has a thrilling voice that carries to the rafters. "Iowa Housewife" (Marsha Waterbury) echoed a bit of Carol Channing, and she was brilliant in considering trying on a seductive outfit that was never going to fit. "Soap Star" (Cherie Price) is petite and reminded me of Vivian Blaine (before your time, I know, but talented), and she nails one skit where she enters the audience and flirts with a man.

The book and lyrics are by Jeanie Linders, and the lyrics are really parodies of famous songs, but this is not a jukebox musical, where the book simply bridges the songs. Here, the book stands on its own, as an insightful critique into female angst, with the angst transformed into humor though the alchemy of intelligence and wisdom. The songs and lyrics here enhance the book, but are merely an adjunct to it. There are 24 songs, and it will be no surprise that "Good Vibrations" deals with a female marital aid - or, perhaps, substitute.

The performers are so gifted and professionally poised - some have been doing this show for years - that they seem to be having as good a time as the audience. The primarily female audience bonds with them immediately, and waves of love cascade toward the stage. The subject matter is more than menopause, and ranges from Indian food to grey hair, wrinkles, craving chocolate, mothers, weight problems, forgetfulness and inattentive husbands. And yes, with the right point-of view, hot flashes can be intensely amusing.

Some of the lyrics are witty, and I laughed hardest at the memory-loss section, when a performer forgot the punch line to a lyric - a pause can be devastatingly funny. There is also dancing, and the performers move well (well, three out of four isn't bad), but the real hero of the evening is tone. This is flawless, with just the right mixture of insight, point-of-view, and comic exaggeration to generate warm good feeling. It's no wonder that this is an international hit, and has played in 300 cities abroad and 450 U. S. cities.

The verdict:

A comedy musical seemingly geared toward women turns out to have universal appeal. Go see it - I laughed my male butt off!

Menopause the Musical continues through April 29 at Zilkha Hall, Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information or ticketing, call 713-315-2525 or contact www.menopausethemusical.com.

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