The news that “Menopause the Musical” is returning to Connecticut is not exactly a headline grabber.
After all, the show has been entertaining scads of largely female audiences for years in theaters across the country. It’s even played New Haven’s Tony Award-winning Long Wharf Theatre — of course as a summer presentation, and not officially part of its main stage series (as if the general public knows the difference). But hey, not-for-profit theaters need some ka-ching at the box office when their own programming needs a financial lift, right?
So what is the story?
Simply that the show is playing at the 1,200-seat Fox Theater at Foxwoods Resorts Casino. This might not strike most people as unusual because the show sounds like it would fit nicely into Foxwoods’ efforts to broaden its audience reach, especially to women who would love to go out with their like-minded friends and see a light-hearted show in which they can relate and then (hopefully for Foxwoods) play the slots, go to its restaurants and visit the shops.
But what makes this otherwise not-big-deal booking so special is that it’s the first time Foxwoods is dipping into theatrical presentations, not just presenting stand-up or concerts or musical revues. And while it’s not exactly “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” — though God knows Mary Tyrone would have been far happier in the “Menopause” storyline — it does make you wonder: Is there more theater in Foxwoods’ future?
Felix Rappaport is the senior vice president and COO at Foxwoods and when I talked to him recently he was pretty focused on promoting the show at hand, remarking on “Menopause’s” extraordinary popularity and how well it fit in with his plans to expand the venue’s audiences.
But then he did say yes, there is life beyond “Menopause,” and that he wants to bring some Broadway entertainment to Foxwoods, which has two appropriate spots: the 1,400-seat Fox (about the same capacity as New Haven’s Shubert Theater) and the 4,000-seat arena.
He says he’s been in conversations with New York booking people and he’s eager to hear what they have to sell that fits well with his goals for audience growth. “We’re not looking for cutting-edge shows,” says Rappaport who has worked with a variety of entertainment in Las Vegas. A broad-based entertainment is what he’s after “to maximize the assets” of his two theaters.
And while there’s no immediate threat to presenting houses like the Garde Arts Center in New London and Hartford’s 2,800-seat Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, that’s not to say there won’t be eventual competition for audiences who enjoy theatrical shows, perhaps even competition for those very same shows they book.
After all, “Menopause the Musical” also played the Bushnell twice. But it would be more disconcerting if Foxwoods with its vast resources (not to mention hotel housing) started competing for its more significant product: Broadway musicals and major touring shows.
Scott Galbraith, vice president for programs at the Bushnell, says that another venue presenting smaller shows like “Menopause” could actually be good for everyone because it develops audiences not necessarily inclined to theater-going. But competition for the larger shows — the Bushnell’s bread and butter musicale — “could be problematic, depending on the show and the schedule.”
But he points out that agents handling big Broadway musicals prefer venues with “a strong ticket base” like the Bushnell’s solid subscription base of more than 5,600. Never-the-less, he says, “we always keep an eye on what our fellow presenters are doing.”
So the question remains: Will Foxwoods be satisfied with the mid-level product such as escapist theatrical shows like “Late Nite Catechism,” “Spank! The 50 Shades Parody” and the spurned-wife musical “Til Divorce Do Us Part.”
I wouldn’t bet on it.