Playwright: Book by Anthony Dodge and Marcia Milgrom Dodge, music & lyrics by various artists
At: Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted
Phone: 312-988-9000; $49.50
Runs through: June 10
BY MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
The archetypal counterpart to the bachelor who forsakes his wild ways to settle down is the matron/spinster/widow who, having completed her tribal duties, abandons domestic servitude to do as she pleases—whether it involves running for public office; learning the tango; or swilling cosmopolitans and flirting with waiters. And why not? For those who, willingly or not, deferred their own youthful aspirations, better to don the red hat and purple gown of proud defiance and follow your bliss late in life than to die regretting roads not taken.
Hats! is an unabashed celebration of the values promoted by the Red Hat Society, an international sorority of AARP-aged women fulfilling poet Jenny Joseph's exhortation that inspires their identifying attire ( 'When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple/With a red hat which doesn't go...' ) . Framed in an afterschool-special plot focusing on a WAM ( wife-and-mother ) nervously facing her fiftieth birthday, this 90-minute revue features uplifting anthems—and a bittersweet ballad or two—by such venerable songsmiths as Melissa Manchester ( who also stars as the ingenuous birthday girl ) , Amanda McBroom, Gretchen Cryer, Kathie Lee Gifford, Carol Hall, Susan Birkenhead and country star Pam Tillis, contributing a delightfully whistleable ditty entitled The Older The Fiddle, The Sweeter The Tune.
This line-up is chiefly what distinguishes Hats! from the geriatric felkfest, Menopause: The Musical, to which it will inevitably be compared. With a ready-made female audience two million strong, producer Mitchell Maxwell didn't need a roster of creative luminaries or Tony award-winning director/choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett to oversee them. But the invested care and quality is evident in the performances of a cast featuring, among others, such regional favorites as Marilynn Bogetich, Laura Walls and Nora Mae Lyng, who doubles as puppeteer for fairy godmother Ruby Red Hat. ( The overall concept abounds in little puns like this—you think it's a coincidence that tickets are priced at exactly $49.50? )
The Red Hat leagues were out on opening night, radiant as petunias in full bloom. But rogue dowagers in the mood for a gynecentric pep rally ( including men unruffled by bawdy humor engendered thereof, as in a song rhyming 'stimulated,' 'penetrated' and 'lubricated' ) can also enjoy this one-stop girls' night out. Isn't having fun with nobody to stop you what a 'certain age' is all about?