Striking Cheer Into the Hearts of Women

The Miami Herald
Theater Reviews by Christine Dolen

Women of a certain age are being celebrated — and doing the celebrating — in a pair of musical revues settling in for long runs on two Broward County stages.

Neither is brand-new. Respect: A Musical Journey of Women already has played the Cuillo Centre in West Palm Beach, and Menopause the Musical once occupied the Wilton Manors theater where Respect is now running before moving on to a long stay in the upstairs theater at Actors’ Playhouse. Nevertheless, the audience for the two shows appears to be both vast and appreciatively vocal.

Predominantly female, with supportive or long-suffering men dotted here and there, these crowds hoot and holler as if they were congregants at a revival meeting. And in a way, they are: There’s something very spirit-refreshing and empowering about seeing your life experiences (even something as hormonally fraught and sweat-inducing as menopause) reflected in an uplifting way onstage. Theater for the ages it isn’t, though both shows feature some powerhouse vocal performances. It’s the been-there, felt-that resonance that makes them work.

Respect, now at Stage Door’s 26th Street Theatre, is an entertaining yet odd hybrid of theater, personal history, sociological study and pop song anthology. Created by Dorothy Marcic, a professor at Vanderbilt University, the show grew out of her book tracing the evolution of women’s roles as reflected in popular music. Working with director Peter J. Loewy and talented musical director-arranger Phil Hinton, Marcic has threaded personal narrative through snippets or full versions of some 60 powerful and enlightening songs.

Wisely, Marcic hired actors Emily Price, Jeanette Fitzpatrick and Paulette Dozier to do nearly all of the self-assured, stage-savvy singing.

Singing their way through the 20th century, the gals chart the journey from restrictive tradition to endless possibility. Though subtlety in performance rarely happens in Respect, the women carve out memorable moments — the husky-voiced, jazz-oriented Dozier singing Billie Holiday’s God Bless the Child as well as recounting a weary Rosa Parks’ story; Fitzpatrick’s hilariously over-the-top take on It Must Be Him; Price and the others strutting through Julie Kleiner’s choreography on Video.

Actors Leigh Bennett (as the straight-laced Iowa Housewife), Patti Gardner (as the hanging-onto-sexiness Soap Star), Jean Zarzour (as the cheerfully blunt Earth Mother) and the always-amazing Avery Sommers (as belt-it-out Power Woman) know how to sell the amusing songs. And now that scary hormone-replacement therapy isn’t the go-to choice for the menopausal, maybe laughter is the best medicine.

Christine Dolen is The Herald’s theater critic.