It might be tempting to lump this production about female biology in the same class with "The Vagina Monologues." Don't.
"It couldn't be further from 'The Vagina Monologues.' This is a comedy," says Megan Cavanagh, 57, one of the four cast members presenting the show in Anchorage next week.
Although some men do attend, "Menopause" tends to be a ladies' night out. Women often show up with groups of female friends. Some, celebrating landmark birthdays, wear crowns or boas for the occasion.
"It's an enormous gathering of women, which doesn't happen in life a lot. We have space to let our hair down and laugh," the actress says.
The musical revue began at a 76-seat theater in Orlando in 2001. Since then, it's been in constant production, touring the United States and other countries. "Menopause" is also the longest-running scripted musical in Las Vegas history.
The show was last performed here 10 years ago, and "people who saw it wanted to see it again," says Laura Carpenter, marketing director for the Anchorage Concert Association. She spoke to some of them personally during the subscription sign-up process; some women ordered extra tickets so they could bring friends.
Some 70 million women in the United States are currently experiencing menopause. The musical "gives us freedom to giggle about things people don't always talk about," Carpenter says.
"We love a show where people leave with smiles. They call it 'humor replacement therapy.' "
Searing drama it's not. Drawing-room comedy? Not that, either. But sometimes you want to see "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" and sometimes you want to see "The Whale Fat Follies."
As Carpenter notes, the ACA's theater offerings this year include "Cabaret," "The Snow Child" and "Cyrano de Bergerac" – along with "Little Shop of Horrors" and "Menopause: The Musical." The mix of comedy and drama offers "balance," the marketing director says.
"Menopause" is a collection of 25 parody songs loosely connected with a plot of four women – Iowa Housewife, Professional Woman, Earth Mother and Soap Star – meeting in a department store. They bond over shared experiences of life changes such as hot flashes, weight gain, brain fog and fatigue, with musical numbers like:
"Stayin' Awake" (to the tune of "Stayin' Alive")
"Change of Life" ("Chain of Fools")
"I'm Having a Hot Flash" ("We're Having a Heat Wave")
"My Husband Sleeps Tonight" ("The Lion Sleeps Tonight")
"Puff, My God, I'm Draggin' " ("Puff, the Magic Dragon")
Cavanagh, who plays Earth Mother, is best known for her role as Marla Hooch in the film "A League of Their Own," she has also done a lot of television (she was a regular on "Home Improvement" and "Bob") and voice-over and stage work.
About that last: Cavanagh has been touring with "Menopause" off and on since 2002. She attributes the show's longevity not just to its humor but also its underlying message: Menopause is not a death knell, but rather just another life stage.
A century ago, a woman's life expectancy was 42.2 years. Thus, menopause was associated with the end of life. Today a woman can expect to live for 81 years – which means decades of postmenopausal lifetime.
"Our bodies might not be the same as they were, but we're still here and we're still fabulous," Cavanagh says.
She would know: The actress has beaten breast cancer, and her own menopause was challenging due to a 2010 hysterectomy that included the removal of her ovaries. Says Cavanagh: "I'm definitely singing and dancing and speaking from truth."
"Menopause: The Musical" runs for 90 minutes with no intermission. Men are encouraged to attend, but the show likely isn't a good fit for children.
Menopause: The Musical
When: 7:30 p.m.Tuesday-Saturday, with 2 p.m. matinee shows Saturday-Sunday, April 3-8
Where: Discovery Theatre at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts
Tickets: $32.50 to $66, available at CenterTix (907-263-2787)