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December 14, 2018

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Q+A: Paige O’Hara talks ‘Menopause the Musical’ moving to Harrah’s

Paige O’Hara

Don Cadette

Paige O’Hara.

Paige O’Hara

Paige O’Hara. Launch slideshow »
Click to enlarge photo

“Positively Primeval” by Paige O’Hara.

The M Word for years was “Mmmmmm”! “Mum’s the word” keeping silent about hot flashes, mood swings and weight gain. All “The Change” subjects women kept quiet about and certainly didn’t discuss openly.

But that changed, in major part thanks to “Menopause the Musical,” which has now been an entertainment mainstay in Las Vegas the past nine years with 3,625 performances under its garter belt and corset.

Today, another major change as “Menopause the Musical” gets a new home at the Improv in Harrah’s, moving up the Strip from the Luxor. Previews with an expanded stage, upgraded sound and lighting, a fresh set and new costumes start tonight, with a grand-opening celebration Feb. 20.

The women’s movement and its celebration empower audiences of all ages with the show’s parodies of classic songs of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. The four characters filled with optimism and laughter prove that no subject is off-limits.

Meeting in a department store while shopping for a black lacy bra, the Soap Star, Iowa Housewife, Earth Mother and Professional Woman celebrate sisterhood bonding and rejoicing that menopause is no longer “The Silent Passage.”

As a new Spanish-language version gets ready to join its sister shows across America and the globe, it’s nice to note that 11 million people worldwide have seen the show since its 2001 debut.

Here in Las Vegas, Lisa Mack plays the Professional Woman, Vita Corimbi the Earth Mother, Laura Lee O’Connell the Iowa Housewife and Disney darling Paige O’Hara the Soap Star.

Three of the cast members made a stop on their way from the Luxor to Harrah’s with a celebration Italian dinner during a rehearsal break at Carmine’s in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. It was the perfect time to get a preview of the transformed show from Paige, 58, known for her movie debut in Walt Disney’s 1991 Oscar-winning animated feature “Beauty and the Beast” in which she voiced the heroine Belle.

She won the Disney Legend Award in 2011 and today still paints Belle for Disney Fine Art and continues to make promotional appearances for the studio. Here’s our Q+A:

So Tuesday is the big day in the new showroom at Harrah’s?

Yes, we’re actually in here now rehearsing. It’s a wonderful little space. I love the intimacy of it. We’re really excited about it.

What does it really mean moving from the Luxor to a new home after you’ve been happily there in the department store of insanity for so many years?

It had become like a family, it was a home there, but this is going to be a different kind of home. The tables and chairs are up really close to you on the stage, so it’s going to have a much more intimate feel to it, which is going to be wonderful. It’s going to be different, but it’s also going to bring in freshness to the show.

I’ve been in it from the beginning for nine years when it started out at the Hilton long before it became the Westgate.

After nine years, does it ever get tired?

Well, it’s been really great because when you feel you need a break, you get a break. I’ve left a couple of times. I left one time to play Judy Garland in a show, and then I leave occasionally to do my Disney gigs. For me, it hasn’t been tiresome.

So let me rephrase the question. How do you bring in a new freshness to the same thing night after night?

A lot of it is that the fifth girlfriend is the audience, and the way they respond will also trigger you to try different things. For me, I just want to live in the moment of the character, and I will change up certain scenes and certain innovations every couple of months just to make it fresher.

I’ve been an actress now for 40 years, and it’s just a trick that I learned from acting class when I was a kid. Just constantly keep it fresh by changing your intents slightly and clear your mind. That’s the biggest thing, Robin; you have to clear your mind before the show.

Not being rude, but I’m guessing now that the cast that’s been together for so long is speaking the truth when they play the play.

Oh, absolutely! I’m the only one who’s been through menopause in life, and I'm out of it now. It’s finally gone away for me. At 58, I’m the oldest of the company. My girls are in it right now. Everybody has turned 50 in this show, except for Lisa Mack. She’s still in her 40s.

A couple of the girls have just literally started it in life and are constantly catching themselves, “Oh, my gosh, I’m doing exactly what I did in the play.” Breaking down crying, losing your temper for no reason. You know, all of those things.

Menopause the Musical's 2,000th Show

Menopause: the Musical's 2,000th show on July 23, 2010, at the Luxor. Launch slideshow »

Menopause the Musical: Opening Night

A sign advertising Menopause the Musical at the Luxor. Launch slideshow »

Have women over the years begun to understand this situation far more than yesteryear?

You know what’s so wonderful about this, Robin, is that it was unspoken. We weren’t allowed to talk about menopause several years ago. It was just this thing that women kept to themselves in their own misery. What’s so great about this show is that it allows you to have acceptance for who you are and celebrate who you are. I think that’s a really special thing.

Which leads to what have women in the audience said to you after they’ve seen the show? That’s it’s helped them get through it?

Often they’ll come up and hug us and kiss us and say, “Thank you, thank you. I don’t feel like a freak anymore.” Because you do feel sometimes like you’re all alone, and there’s something wrong with you.

Then when you see this play and you can laugh about it and see yourself in certain aspect of menopause, whether it be the hot flashes or the breakdowns, there’s a certain acceptance that they have by the end of the play. They feel good about it, and they say, “You know, it’s really OK.” It’s a celebration.

Is that the message out of the play?

The play is really about uniting women when they’re going through this change and making them feel that it’s not only ok, but it’s also something that they need to celebrate and accept and know that that’s part of who they are and share it with each other and realize that you’re not alone. Every woman goes through this in some way or another, some cases worse than others.

For me, Robin, I was going through menopause when I started the show nine years ago. I almost didn’t take the job because I was so depressed and not really realizing why I was so depressed. I read the script and saw the play and said, “This is meant to be because I’m living this right now. This is going to help me be able to laugh about it.”

How amazing is it, nine years in this Entertainment Capital of the World, to run like this. It definitely touches the core of a lot of women. What’s special about the women I’m with now is we’ve all been together for nine years. We’ve gone through children, deaths, divorce. I mean you name it, we’ve all been through a lot together. I think that sisterhood helps the play with this particular company because we have been together for so long.

The subject of menopause has a lot of other words to describe it without saying menopause, right? “The change”? Are there other words that describe it?

Actually, the change is the only other one we’ve used. I like to say menopause. I never had the guts to even say that word when I started rehearsal on this show nine years ago. I couldn’t even admit that I had it, you know. I was totally in denial. I can’t possibly be in menopause. I’m too young.

Let’s try and draw an analogy, however weird it might sound. You’re making the change from one side, one end of the Strip to the other side of the Strip. You’re making the change from one theater to a new theater. Is there a correlation between that and the show in any way?

That’s very interesting. You know, I haven’t really thought of that in that way. You know what it is like with the stage in life? It’s time for a new beginning. This theater is definitely going to be a new beginning. The whole seating, the whole feel of the theater is so much different. So much smaller and more intimate. What we’re doing today in rehearsals, we’re actually all going back to the beginning with our characters and just re-examining and bringing a freshness to it.

Are you still doing Disney voice-overs?

I’m not doing them right now anymore because I’ve just pretty much moved on from it, but they’re still using my voice on things that I’ve recorded over 20 years. So you’ll hear me all the time. We get those nice residuals. I’m actually now painting for Disney. I was signed as an artist two years ago.

I actually create world paintings of “Beauty and the Beast” from all through the film. All the characters and themes, and the paintings have been doing really well. My artwork has done really well. It’s been great.

Is there a moment in the play that encapsulates everything about what this musical is all about? If it’s not the same, tell me the other moment, which is the one that makes you smile every night.

I think the moment where everybody comes together and has accepted who they are is the end of the play, which is the new attitude. The whole lyric is we’ve got a new attitude because, you know what, this is pretty fantastic. We’re all in this together. We’re not alone. So a new attitude would be the moment where everyone comes together. Each little character has her breaking-out moment at the end of the play.

Mine is the hot-flash reprise. There’s the Tina Turner moment, then of course ultimately the biggest is the Housewife so afraid to even say the word sex. For me, the Soap Star, my biggest moment is when she realizes that she has friends who are going to help her and accept who she is, and beauty is only skin deep. That’s the moment she lets it go and accepts her aging.

I recommend everybody see “Menopause” because understanding it will change your life for the better.

Maybe it will help men understand women a little better?

That’s true! Kathy Glist, our producer, always says it should be a must-do workshop for all men.

Do men suffer from menopause in some way, too?

My husband, Michael, says he does. I think maybe that’s possible. If not, I think they suffer it with their wives.

“Menopause the Musical” performs 7:30 p.m. Mondays and 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, with 2 p.m. matinees Saturdays at the Improv in Harrah’s.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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