By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Five years ago, Ella Nora Thomas was hesitant to take on the role of a 50-something woman in Menopause: The Musical. After all, she was in her early 30s and not even close to “The Change.”
“I thought, ‘I’m still too young for menopause,’” Thomas says via telephone from Philadelphia. “Now I feel better prepared for what’s to come.”
Menopause: The Musical is a 14-year-old parody staged to classic tunes from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Set in a department store, four women with seemingly nothing in common but a black lace bra on sale come to find they have more to share than they imagined. The cast makes fun of their woeful hot flashes, forgetfulness, mood swings, wrinkles, night sweats and chocolate binges.
Menopause: The Musical returns to the Arizona Broadway Theatre in Peoria from Friday, January 4 through Saturday, January 12.
“I’ve been in the Arizona Broadway Theatre on and off since ABT’s second season,” says Thomas, who plays the Iowa Housewife. “It’s my home away from home. It was my very first gig away from home when I started acted professionally. It has a special place in my heart.
“They always treated their actors with great respect. The quality of productions they put on is top-notch. It’s second only to Broadway. I might be biased, but sometimes I think our shows are even better.”
Thomas doesn’t remember a time when she didn’t want to be on stage, having sang or danced since she was 6 years old. Foot surgery forced her to put down her ballet shoes.
“I learned, too, my passion was more for theater than being an opera singer,” she says. “This is a tough biz to be in. They used to look for triple threats. Now they’re looking for quadruple threats – singing, dancing, acting and playing instruments.”
Thomas isn’t exactly doing poorly herself. When Menopause: The Musical came to the now-defunct Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in East Mesa, guests gave her and the rest of the cast repeated standing ovations.
“Women who come up and interact with us after the shows are laughing like crazy,” Thomas says. “They tell us how important it is to have this catharsis, because maybe the change was hard for one reason or another. We gave them the opportunity to laugh at themselves.
“When the show was written 15 years ago, people didn’t talk as freely about things. We didn’t have the constant information of the internet and social media. ‘The Change’ was very awkward and very personal. Women didn’t feel comfortable talking about it publicly or with their friends.”
Thomas says many patrons say they can relate to her. “She’s a housewife, she’s plus-sized and struggles to get into clothing,” she says. “The women in the audience say, ‘Oh, that’s me, too!’ It’s a real joyful feeling that I get from the audience.One of the characters struggles to read a menu. Men even say they go through the sight thing.”
Thomas knows she won’t retire rich because of her Menopause role, but she’s filled with happiness. “I wasn’t sure about doing the show as a younger actress, but now I realize I really make an impact on people’s lives,” she says. “I like to say the show is for anyone going through menopause, or has to go through menopause, will go through menopause, or loves someone who is going through menopause. The men love it just as much as the women do.
“Men say, ‘I can relate to the Iowa Housewife struggling to put on her clothes. I may not have a woman’s body, but I can relate to that.’ There’s something in the show for everyone to see.”