Babs Winn, Brenda Braxton, Catherine Porter in Cougar the Musical (© Bitten By A Zebra)
The cheesy clichés abound in Cougar the Musical at St. Luke's Theatre, but despite the corniness of the light plot (and the horrible sound system that serves this theater), the production is a fun time for the non-jaded female theatergoer.
Donna Moore's four-person show focuses on three women, Lily (Catherine Porter), Clarity (Brenda Braxton) and Mary-Marie (Babs Winn), who find themselves through dating younger men (all of whom are played by Danny Bernardy).
Through catchy songs and rote affirmations, the women become more empowered and secure in their lives. For example, Lily finds the courage to divorce her husband and opens herself to finding love again, and Porter brings suitable emotion and compassion to her role.
Conversely, Clarity, a character who is annoying from the moment the audience hears her ridiculously explanatory name, is supposed to stand out as the voice of reason as she secretly researches what it means to be a cougar, and how it is an anti-feminist phenomenon. She spews platitudes such as "You don't need a king to be a queen" to an annoying degree.
However, in the second act, once she finds love, Clarity becomes much more likable. And despite the discomfort the audience feels while watching her orgasm through song when describing her love for her vibrator, Braxton's energy is spot-on.
The most entertaining of the bunch is the sexy yet adorable Winn, whose Mary-Marie is a cougar anyone would want as a pet. The 60ish country singer prances around the stage in a royal blue bustier and heels, on the prowl for younger men. "If life is craps, then the dice that I'm throwing is younger men," she says with a flourish.
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The women dance circles around Bernardy, both literally and figuratively. He plays a mish-mash of men, some of whom he nails (such as the lothario Goliath), while others are cringeworthy (his Twilight Dude is so schlocky you'll want to leave at intermission). The women even get their nails done by Bernardy's Eve, a crazy Asian woman, in the laugh-out-loud number "Shiny and New."
The wonderfully talented director and choreographer, Lynne Taylor-Corbett, doesn't get to do much with the hokey material, but in the few big dance numbers she has created, the women are clearly enjoying themselves. Dustin Cross' costume design is fantastically modern; the women wear vibrant colors, snazzy suits, and form-fitting outfits that accentuate their best parts.
While Moore has written some pieces that don't belong in the show (such as "Mother's Love," in which Lily and Mary-Marie break into a disgustingly sweet lullaby), much of Cougar the Musical will leave audiences feeling better about themselves while they snap their fingers.