Straight women, like gays, have been so targeted in the past couple years by Right Wing extremists that empowerment seems essential for survival. Older women have never had it easy, in regards to their sex appeal and worth in the public’s eye (read pretty much anything on Madonna’s tour), so it’s almost as fun to watch the cast of Cougar: The Musical strut their stuff as it is to listen to the whoops and hollers from so many over-40 female audience members.
Playwright Donna More has been developing Cougar for eight years, starting as a cabaret show at Don’t Tell Mama, and, despite its big-time move to the St. Luke’s Theatre as full-length musical, the production retains a welcome, liquor-and-laughs night on the town appeal. You can almost smell the Happy Hour crowd when you enter the theater, and that’s not a bad thing. From the opening number, “On the Prowl,” till the wrap-up, the audience knows what it’s in for; a ridiculously silly piece of froth that doesn’t so much pinch a nerve as grow out of a sociological one.
Three women, Lily, Clarity, and Mary-Marie (Catherine Porter, Brenda Braxton, and Babs Winn), control the show in a plot that’s as simple as it is harmless. Lily’s the newly divorced mother, Clarity’s the smart financial analyst, and Mary-Marie’s the fun-loving Southern owner of a Cougar Bar. They meet, mayhem ensues, young men are seduced and seduce, they bond, and the audience lives happily ever after, or at least until the buzz wears off. In the midst of the leads is Danny Barnardy, who plays a plethora of male roles and is delightful in all of them.
The women are well cast and quite strong. Winn gets to have the most fun as the older, sex-loving babe (think Samantha Jones with a Southern Accent), Braxton gets the most sex appeal—and her own number about vibrator love—and Porter’s the 47-year-old ingénue. While the songs aren’t hum-worthy after your exit, they work well enough to keep you listening; with six composers listed, this is the Britney Spears of off-Broadway soundtracks. A couple of the gags are quite funny, and not nearly as sexual as you’d think, and there’s only one scene, involving Mary-Marie and a role-playing cowboy, that falls flat.
Director Lynne Taylor-Corbett keeps the mood light, and her choreography is engagingly simple. Expect to see a lot of bump and grinds. There’s virtually no set, and, be warned, if you’re stuck in the back of this theater on a hot night (as my date and I were), you’re likely to think you’re experiencing hot flashes. Pay more and get seats up-front, as, in addition to the heat, the theater’s seats are almost auditorium-style—you’ll be peering around the heads in front of you.
Shows like Cougar, when well done, are a welcome relief from the overly constructed and non-spontaneous big Broadway productions. There’s no agenda here but to have fun (the biggest message in the show is that “cougar” is hidden in the word “courage”), and everyone involved succeeds. When the show gets too sentimental toward the end, with about four too many songs, you can’t help but forgive these women their over-time, even if you do feel like skipping out early to hit the bar. These women, and one man, are hot, sexy, and full of life. Dragging out the production of Cougar: The Musical is the only thing that feels old.
For more information and tickets, visit www.cougarthemusical.com.