THANKS TO MODERN medicine, aerobics and a national obsession with dieting, middle age isn't as awful as it used to be. But the producers of "Over Forty," a musical comedy that opened at the Lyric Opera House last night and runs through Sunday, apparently think there are enough good lines about growing old to fill two hours.
Unfortunately, too many of the lines that ended up in this production are trite, only mildly funny or just plain bad. Parts of the three lines that draw the most laughter from the audience have been heard repeatedly on the television commercial promoting the musical -- and they all deal with sex.
The saving grace is the music. Between the dialogues and monologues are some musical segues that stir the emotions, including a rendition of the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome" done in four-part harmony, a finger-popping medley of 60's hits and a hysterical performance of "Please, please, please" a la James Brown.
The premise of the play is simple. On a stage that's empty save for a logo of the play suspended from the ceiling and a couple of platforms, four black women in their forties talk and sing about lost youth, the disappointment that life hasn't turned out as expected and a fear of death.
Each has her own story to tell: the single career woman who still lives at home with mother, the divorced single mother, the married woman who wants to trade the corporate world for motherhood and the holier-than-thou married homemaker and mother of seven.
But the play falls flat primarily because it lacks character development. They come off as one-dimensional stereotypes.
There are opportunities to make the play more than a series of vaudeville sketches, but it rarely rises above that.
For example, when the divorcee laments the loss of her ex-husband's love, one character asks whether she was at least partly at fault in the relationship.
She barely admits to being culpable when they lunge into the next song, a kitschy number about the biological clock ticking called "Beat the Clock."
But the lack of depth is not the actors' fault. They make the best of the lines they have been given. When one character, for instance, says she's looking for a man who is loving and reliable, another reponds: "It's easier to find loose diamonds laying in the street." The character almost seems to be embarrassed to say the line.
The basic theme of the play is noble: to reassure black women that getting older may cost them some of their sexual allure, but in exchange they gain wisdom and knowledge. With better writing it could be a funny but moving production, sort of a musical thirtysomething, or rather, fortysomething for black women.
There's a performance tonight at 8 p.m., and there are matinee and evening performances Saturday and Sunday.