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Hats!: A mid-life carol

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Entertainment,Dan Collins
When a friend heard I was going to see a musical called Hats!, she wondered if it was some spin on Broadway’s Cats. Meowing milliners perhaps? No, this play has more in common with Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

For the miser Scrooge, substitute MaryAnne (Debbie Mobley), a woman determined to postpone her 50th birthday and all the baggage that number has come to represent. Instead of ghosts of Yuletide past, present and future, MaryAnne is beset by members of the Red Hat Society, a group of unsinkable Molly Brown-types (imagine “The View” set to music), as determined as Ebeneezer’s ghosts to reform their charge.

Will Lady (Joan Ashwell), the Baroness (EG Weaver), Dame (Jean Burgess), Contessa (Natalia Leimkuhler), Princess (Trish), Duchess (Tia Rountree) and a marionette, Ruby Red Hat (voiced by Mary Jane Oelke), convince MaryAnne with “sing-it-sisters” enthusiasm that life truly begins at 50? It’s a musical, of course they will.


The play opens with Mary Anne’s surprise 50th birthday party. The Red Hat Society, led by MaryAnne’s mother, Lady, sings a joyous lament, “Fifty,” celebrating the “youth of old age,” but MaryAnne will have none of it, particularly the “varicose veins, stretch marks and mustaches” that women encounter on “the other side of my life,” as she declares in “I Don’t Want.”

It’s a pattern that repeats as each member of the Red Hat Society takes her turn telling of her own encounter with the dreaded “50,” overcoming bad husbands, dead husbands, breast cancer, domestic violence, kids grown-up-and-gone, parents-grown-old-and-gone, menopause and the ever present fear of trying new things (dating, yoga, golf), with a joie de vivre that is initially rejected, but slowly embraced by Mary Anne.

Songs like “The Older the Fiddler, The Sweeter the Tune,” “My Oven’s Still Hot” and “Yes, We Can” show what’s possible with the right attitude.

Ultimately, MaryAnne finds the red hat she first renounced a more than comfortable fit. Hats! pays homage to the role of women as mothers, wives, career women, people who spent the first half of their lives putting others before themselves.

“Write your story,” Ruby tells MaryAnne at the play’s close, “even if it’s just for you.”

IF YOU GO
Hats! is now at the Spotlighters Theater, 817 St. Paul St., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. with one Thursday performance, Oct. 30th at 8 p.m. through Nov. 2.Tickets range from $15 to $18. Call 410-752-1225 or visit www.spotlighters.org.
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