Seattle Review: Menopause The Musical and Peter and the Wolf

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Menopause The Musical (ACT Theatre)

When grown women in the audience giggle at the very mention of "The Change", it soon becomes clear that Jeanie Linders' Menopuase The Musical is more than just a lighthearted romp. While there are plenty of laughs and freewheeling fun, Menoupase allows its viewers to find solace and community in a life change that most are encouraged to remain silent about. Through a series of vignettes covering every facet of womanhood, the audience is given a sense of freedom and liberation.

With the aid of 28 familiar songs from the 60's and 70's, Linders' new lyrics and fearless book take us into the minds of menopausal women from all walks of life. Set in Bloomingdales in New York City, Menopause The Musical is part revue and part existential dilemma. Linders succeeds in the rare task of making a comical evening have poignancy. And in G Four Productions' Seattle mounting, her material shines.

Michael Larsen provides crisp direction full of madcap joy. The comedy is allowed to evolve naturally, and nothing seems forced or unnecessary. He is aided by four capable performers who provide strong voices and fearless comic flair. Cynthia Jones proves that she is one of Seattle's best vocalists as she effortlessly stops the show several times. Jones is a fierce stage presence able to hold an audience in the palm of her hand. Juliet Hicks, Laura Lee O'Connell, and Kittra Wynn Coomer (in for Jayne Muirhead) also offer impressive performances full of strong singing and outrageous humor. Bud Clark provides a functional set that allows the ladies to play. Larsen allows each actress to have multiple star turns while still maintaining a uniform ensemble.

Menopause The Musical is the kind of event that theatergoers crave. It is a refreshing addition to a genre that can often seem a bit gimmicky. When complete strangers share personal stories with each other after the show, it becomes even more difficult to deny the charm and importance of this sparkling production.

Menopause the musical continues its open ended run at ACT Theatre. For tickets call (206) 292-7676, or visit www.acttheatre.org

Peter and the Wolf (Seattle Children's Theatre)

Loosely based on Sergei Prokofiev's classic story, Allison Gregory (book and lyrics) and Hummie Mann's (lyrics and music) Peter and the Wolf is an ambitious musical full of clowning and puppetry. In the world premiere at Seattle Children's Theatre, this Peter is still struggling to find its identity. The artistic team has come up with a bag full of impressive tricks that never give the piece the congruity it needs.

The potential for genius is present, but Gregory's text seems unwilling to latch onto the darker aspects of the story. Great pains are taken to stretch out the simple plot with filler that is more extraneous than necessary. The result is several false endings, and a complete rethinking of the wolf's demise that never quite works. Mann's music flows organically from Gregory's book at first, but quickly becomes forced. Sounding a lot like Weill and Sondheim, the songs are too short to make much of an impression. Had they written a more complete score, the evening would have filled itself out naturally. Each character also lacks an independent musical style, which worked so well in Prokofiev's original. Mann has used some of Prokofiev's work, but the ideas never come to full fruition.

Director Linda Hartzell doesn't find the focus in a piece full of great moments. SCT's Peter and the Wolf often seems more intent on impressing than telling. Jennifer Lupton's stunning set and Deborah Trout's detailed costumes give this world great texture but overwhelm the text even more. It would have been nice to see Doug Pasch's marvelous puppets become the centerpiece idea, rather than just another convention in a production that tends to seem like a Theatre 101 course. Each design and idea stands alone as a great achievement. Together they just don't create a uniform whole. It might have been wiser to pair this piece with another one-act, so the pressure to turn this brief story into a full length musical isn't so obvious.

Despite the creative trappings, the cast is superb all around. Hans Altweis is a tricky, double talking Wolf, and tackles the role with his usual gusto. Lisa Estridge (Bird) adds her strong belt to her songs, and shines in the odd 11 o'clock number. Liz McCarthy (Cat) reveals a competent singing voice, and gives a detailed physical performance. Daniel Charles Dennis is a game Peter, capturing the fearless boyishness of the character. Peter A. Jacobs is a wisecracking genius as the Duck.

All in all, this Peter and a Wolf emerges as well intentioned but misguided. So many great ideas are present, but one clear thought throughout is lacking. These gifted artists have done great work that needs heavy editing. While children are introduced to many styles of theatre, they may not be able to process it all. Still, it is nice to see SCT constantly striving to be more than just a babysitter.

Peter and the Wolf runs through March 18 at Seattle Children's Theatre. For tickets call (206) 441-3322, or visit www.sct.org

Top Photo: Cynthia Jones (Power Woman), Juliet Hicks (Soap Star), Laura Lee O'Connell (Iowa Housewife), and Jayne Muirhead (Earth Mother) in Menopause The Musical. Photo by Chris Bennion.

Bottom Photo: Lisa Estridge (Bird) and Daniel Charles Dennis (Peter) in Peter and the Wolf. Photo by Chris Bennion. .

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Robbie is a California native, and has lived in Seattle for the past four years. His love for theatre began after seeing his High School's production of Bye Bye Birdie and Bette Midler's television Gypsy in the same week. He attended Western Washington University, where he studied drama. Other areas of study include Absurdist, Postmodern, and Children's Theatre. He has a deep passion for Musical Theatre, and is an avid collector of Cast Recordings.


 
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