Mirth for mothers, even a delight for dads

From left, Donnie Hammond, Ashley Turba, Ellie Mooney, Ilona Ahearn.
From left, Donnie Hammond, Ashley Turba, Ellie Mooney, Ilona Ahearn. (SCOTT WEINER)
Posted: October 19, 2011

 I can't think of a mother, present and probably future, who wouldn't get a good laugh out of the new and polished musical revue called Motherhood the Musical, the touring show that Society Hill Playhouse opened over the weekend.

And that goes for lots of fathers, too. I was there, laughing with the rest of them, at stuff us dads have heard about from the moms ever since kids came into our lives: The constant cries of "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!", the stretch marks, the weight gains, the frustrating imbalances of raising kids and caring for everything else.

I admit that the song about loose bladders - one of the best in the 90-minute one-act - gave me pause, but also made me laugh. "I leak like a senator in Congress," sings one character, in a lyric typical of the show's cheeky lines.

Motherhood, in any case, is clearly a musical for women, who will identify with every piece of it as if they and the characters on stage were born into some secret society, now exposed by Sue Fabisch, who wrote the songs in collaboration with others, and by a cast of four women with wonderfully cartoonish expressions and body language.

The tale, a simple framework for 20 songs, plus an overture and a reprise, centers on Amy (Ellie Mooney), pregnant and about to give birth in three weeks. Her three pals, all experienced moms, surprise her with an intimate baby shower a week before her big-deal shower is to take place. The four women dish about motherhood and pregnancy, the topics of the hour. (Adoptive moms in the audience may be surprised at how much of the show involves pregnancy as a standard part of its motherhood theme.)

Each of the buddies has a distinct character: Tasha (Donnie Hammond) is the divorced mom; Brooke (Ilona Ahearn) is the lawyer who juggles court appearances with soccer runs; Barb (I saw understudy Ashley Turba) has made raising her kids her career.

That's enough different types to give plenty of advice, which they do: "Minivan" is the name of one song, and others are "The Kids Are Finally Asleep" and "Baby Weight Blues." You can guess which character sings "Every Other Weekend," and often they all sing, as in "Not Gonna Take It Anymore": "I'm not cooking, I'm not cleaning/ Gonna blow up the washing machine . . . ."

Some tunes are better than others, but there's not a bad number in the show, which was produced by the same people who put Menopause the Musical on the road. That show occupied Society Hill Playhouse for four years.

Motherhood has a peppy orchestration, but a recorded one, which takes some fun out of the live-theater musical. But its cast is very much in the present; the four women play, and sing, the show for all the fun it's worth.

"Is it going to hurt?" asks Amy, the woman about to give birth.

"The delivery? Or the next 18 years?" responds Barb. In the topsy-turvy life Motherhood explores, it all hurts. Yet somehow, it all feels good.

Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727, hshapiro@phillynews.com, or #philastage on Twitter. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/howardshapiro. Hear his reviews at the Classical Network, www.wwfm.org.


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