Reunions are tricky affairs. Some people adamantly refuse to attend them, fearing that they’ll learn they’ve been outstripped in life by many of their peers. Three of the four women in We’re Still Hot! overcome such reluctance and attend their 35th reunion, which falls smack dab in the middle of their menopause. “Is it hot in here or is it just me?” a couple of them demand to know while fanning themselves
Given the quality of the J.J. McColl-Rueben Gurr musical comedy in which the fiftyish characters share their experiences on the unwelcome rite of female passage, maybe they should have stayed home and canned preserves or dictated memos to their executive assistants. The lameness of the entire package is summed up by Kate (Deborah Jean Templin), one of the attendees, when she says, “It’s just the beginning of an idea — it needs work.”
What Kate is actually talking about is the show-within-a-show that she’s written. Insecure because she hasn’t penned or directed anything since she graduated, Kate hopes to redeem herself in her own eyes by creating a reunion piece in which her former friends Marnie (Deirdre Kingsbury) and Cynthia (Marnee Hollis) will appear. A fourth chum fails to arrive — was she shown Kate’s script in advance? — so a Hungarian cleaning lady called Zsu Zsu (Jane Seaman), who was a famous actress in her native country, pushes her way into the troupe. She thinks it’s an opportunity to revive her career.
While rehearsing the opus, the women replay their histories and, in the cases of Kate, Cynthia, and Marnie, bicker about old times. Marnie doesn’t much take to Zsu Zsu, who reciprocates the acrimony. By great coincidence, it turns out that Kate, Marnie, and even Zsu Zsu have been involved with Cynthia’s philandering husband, Chester, a guy who calls his penis “Herman.” One of the triumphs of this impromptu sisterhood is to get the wronged Cynthia to utter the F-word — as in “F*** you” — to and about Chester.
Since part of librettist-lyricist-composer McColl’s aim is to illustrate how women grow stronger when they bond, there are other triumphs for Kate et al. before final curtain — that is, if it’s proof of synergistic strength for three ladies to gather around a cannon that they haul on stage and for a fourth to straddle and caress the large prop until it fires glitter. You heard right: One of the sequences concludes exactly that way. (McColl seems to be under the delusion that there’s something fresh about employing a cannon as a phallic symbol.) The cannon scene is also the one in which the ladies put on hats loud with Easter colors to suggest a la-di-da women’s club and then proudly declare themselves “meno-positive.” In other sketches, the estrogen-challenged characters — one of whom mentions something about “women wisdom” — sing blues, gospel, and country songs with tepid melodies that McColl composed with Gurr. Some of the songs are over before you know it; some stick around longer but don’t go anywhere.
We’re Still Hot! has obviously been constructed to buck up women of a certain age. Perhaps just as importantly, it’s intended to clue men in to certain female experiences. The show’s heart is in the right place — but it takes more than good intentions to make a show, or to make it original. Those who follow these things know that Menopause: The Musical, which also features four women, has been covering the same hot-flashes ground since its 2002 Manhattan bow. (I haven’t seen that long-running tuner and therefore can’t offer a detailed comparison.) Perhaps McColl, who apparently has had an extensive career in Canadian radio, put her piece together before Menopause, but that doesn’t count for much this side of the border. It may not be a hopeful sign that Eve Ensler’s recent The Good Body, also calculated to cheer the distaff AARP contingent, folded quickly on Broadway.
Yes, it’s nice to have a vehicle for women less in the first blush of youth than in the first flush of middle-age. Marnee Hollis, Jane Seaman, Deborah Jean Templin, and Deirdre Kingsbury (who has a figure many women in the audience will wish on themselves) work hard at singing, dancing, telling feeble jokes, getting in and out of Philip Heckman’s not especially flattering costumes, and sometimes pushing around elements of Diego Studios’ set. Unfortunately, their efforts — and those of director Sue Wolf — don’t pay off more than intermittently. The cast doesn’t show much more wherewithal than might a quartet of Tupperware party-givers who decide to put on a play. Also unfortunate are the wigs, which are not credited to anyone; the one plunked down upon Cynthia’s head could entirely explain Chester’s continuing wanderlust.
Not long after Kate, Cynthia, and Marnie greet each other but before Zsu Zsu elbows her way in, there’s a discussion of hormone replacement therapy. The reunited gals are talking about their own needs, of course, but it might have helped if they’d also considered some much-needed HRT for the show they’re in. It gives new meaning to the saying, “When you’re hot, you’re hot, and when you’re not, you’re not.”