Orlando’s Jeanie Linders hit theatrical pay dirt a dozen years ago when she put together a show of parody songs and dubbed it Menopause the Musical.
Critics didn’t much care for Linders’ sassy exploration of the woes of women of a certain age. But gals approaching, enduring or remembering “the change” found it oh so relatable. Menopause, no hot flash in the pan, made Linders a wealthy woman and inspired all sorts of shows attempting to replicate her success at turning a resonant topic into box office gold.
Producer Alan Jacobson is clearly following Linders’ formula with Waistwatchers the Musical!, which has just opened at his Plaza Theatre in Manalapan. The show, which debuted at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre in 2007 under the title Food Fight, has already been extended to mid-May -- an enormously long run by South Florida standards. The audience, so predominantly female that you have to look hard to spot a guy, eats the show up. Critics? Not so much.
The setup for Waistwatchers is that three not-so-young women -- Connie (Missy McArdle), Cindy (Shelley Keelor) and Cheryl (Jeanne Bennett) -- meet regularly to work out at a women’s gym owned by exercise instructor Carla (Katie Angell Thomas); apparently, membership is restricted to women whose names begin with the letter “c.”
Between musical numbers and crunches, the gals dish about their lives: Food, sex (or the lack of it) and relationships are big on the conversational menu. The dialogue is so-so and meandering, and one key plot point about Cheryl is telegraphed so early and so often that every time she runs off to the bathroom, various women in the audience correctly (and audibly) diagnose what ails her.
Still, the dialogue is nothing more than glue to hold those parody songs together. Jacobson’s new lyrics are set to easily recognizable Baby Boomer-friendly melodies. ABBA’s Dancing Queen becomes Botox Queen. The Impossible Dream turns into The World’s Greatest Ice Cream (Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey wins top-scoop honors). The beautiful Maria from West Side Story is way less moving after morphing into Viagra.
Despite the limitations of the material, director Andy Rogow, choreographer Kevin Black and the talented cast work up a sweat selling Waistwatchers to the appreciative, none-too-picky audience. The curvy McArdle gets several showcase musical comedy moments, including If I Were a Size Two, set to the tune of If I Were a Rich Man from Fiddler on the Roof. Keelor scores with Lazy, an exhausted exerciser’s version of Crazy. Thomas’ guy-juggling Carla turns I Am Woman into I Am Cougar, though she doesn’t look old enough to be doing any cradle robbing. Bennett amusingly croons Viagra, though her show-and-tell “choreography” with a gym towel is more than the song needs.
Go to Waistwatchers and you may spot a group of women dressed in purple and sporting red hats. They’re members of the Red Hat Society, a group inspired by the Jenny Joseph poem Warning, which begins: When I am an old woman I shall wear purple/With a red hat that doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me. The Red Hatters are all about not giving a care about what anyone thinks, staying engaged in life and having fun. And that’s precisely the Waistwatchers demographic.