Linda Boston said she remembers when discussions about menopause used to happen in whispered tones.
“It was taboo,” said Boston, a cast member in Menopause The Musical. “But, like many issues like sexual preference or racial intolerance, when you bring it to light, it makes it easier to deal with. When we can talk about it, we can all deal with it.”
The musical will be performed at 2 p.m. on Feb. 25 at Miller Auditorium on the campus of Western Michigan University. Based on the work of writer Jeanie Linders, it debuted on a Florida stage in 2001.
The setting is a department store, where four women with seemingly nothing in common meet by chance in the lingerie department. The encounter turns into a wide-ranging, humorous discussion about hot flashes, mood swings, chocolate binges and other menopausal woes.
Boston plays the role of Professional Woman. She is joined onstage by Iowa Housewife, Earth Mother and Soap Star. Their conversations are set to music and songs using lyrics that parody popular music from the baby boomer era, with notable numbers Stayin’ Awake and Puff, My God I’m Draggin’.
Her observations of powerful women in her family and those she worked with through the years provided her with examples she used to shape her character.
“About 60 percent of her is all me,” Boston said. “The main thing is allowing an arc to happen in the character as she progresses and levels off into a specific space.”
The show’s Kalamazoo stop is a homecoming of sorts for Boston, who majored in communications at WMU. From there, she moved around the state before landing a job at WJR Radio in Detroit where she remained for 20 years. Boston said her work in radio transcended into elements of singing and acting.
The “aha” moment — when Boston decided she wanted to be an actor — came during her time at a St. Joseph radio station.
“I remember the general manager of the station in St. Joe made a comment to me, because I was trying to begin professional voiceover work, that I probably wouldn’t make it in commercial work because I would have to act,” Boston said.
Being told what she couldn’t do strengthened Boston’s resolve to do it anyway.
“I realized I had to listen to what I was hearing on the radio, and how people were delivering the words, lines and product names,” Boston said. “Commercials were like little movies in my imagination.”
After many performances around the east side of the state, she eventually happened across Menopause.
“It came to my attention simply as a theater job in Detroit that was being cast,” Boston said. “I began to realize as I did the show about the masses of people affected by it.
“I don’t think it ever becomes mundane. Every audience is very happy to see it.”
It’s not uncommon for audiences to include people who have seen it multiple times. Bethany Gauthier, Miller Auditorium’s marketing specialist, said this will be the show’s third run at Miller and she fully expects repeat audience members.
“That’s why we bring it back. People ask us when we’re coming back,” she said. “It’s really believable because it’s about something a lot of people experience and this show is finding the honor in it. It’s good to sit and be entertained and be able to deal with the lighter side of something that can be unpleasant.”
Although women make up the majority of “Menopause” audiences, Boston said men appreciate it because they have an objective view of what their female family members go through.
“Being part of this show made me realize that there are women who are thrust into menopause, not by choice but as a result of medically-related issues such as chemotherapy as a result of breast cancer,” she said. “Women are in it and they see themselves in each and every character. But men laugh the loudest.”
Since it premiered, the musical has been seen by more than 11 million people, which includes a woman in Florida who has seen the shows 20 times and a woman from Massachusetts who has seen it 27 times, always accompanied by a different group.
“When shows have longevity like this, there must be a reason why,” Boston said. “The reviews validate its popularity. You could be the biggest prude or loosest goose out there and you will still find the show entertaining.”
Boston initially toured for five years with the show, which included performances at the Gem Theatre in Detroit. She then took a hiatus from acting to produce a CD called Permission: The Power of Being and spend some time working in Michigan with special-needs teachers and students.
Four years ago, she reached out to G4 Productions, which was doing Menopause, about re-joining the cast.
“We often do meet and greets after the show. We are a touchable cast and being able to reach out like this is healing,” Boston said. “I think this is one of the greatest shows ever created.”
Menopause the Musical
2200 Auditorium Dr., Kalamazoo
Feb. 25, 2 p.m., $42
millerauditorium.com, (269) 387-2300