Aussies tap into girl power

'Breast Wishes' among new productions

SYDNEY — A girls’ night out is a good night for the legit biz, judging by the rash of distaff theater productions turning up in Oz. Just don’t expect guys to join their wives and girlfriends in the balcony in great numbers any time soon.

The latest entry, “Breast Wishes: An Uplifting Musical,” began its world-premiere run April 16 at Sydney’s Seymour Center.

It joins a new touring production of “Steel Magnolias,” a return tour of “Secret Bridesmaid’s Business” and the enduringly popular “Menopause the Musical,” still going strong four years after its Melbourne debut. Then there’s “Calendar Girls,” the stage adaptation of the 2003 movie about middle-aged gals posing nude for charity, which is heading to Oz in March after a stellar performance in its U.K. tour and a promising start in London.

Penned by a phalanx of seven scribes, including novelist and former brothel receptionist Merridy Eastman, radio presenters Wendy Harmer and Richard Glover and screenwriter Sheridan Jobbins, “Breast Wishes” is billed as “a celebration of breasts and those who support them.”

Such femme-friendly shows as this that revel in puns, milk emotion and celebrate warts ‘n’ all womanhood rarely make the critics swoon. But producers are hoping they will continue to click with auds in challenging economic times; Oz isn’t officially in recession yet, but discretionary spending has been reined in sharply.

Designed to tour regional centers and attract group bookings, the modestly scaled, independently produced show has a cast of five. Its A$65 ($46) top ticket is priced 30% lower than the standard for large-scale musicals.

It’s a formula that aims to mimic other successful shows, like “Menopause.” Since February 2005, the hot-flash tuner has played to 850,000 people in Oz and New Zealand over 2,300 perfs. With single tix priced at $36 ($28 for groups), the show’s grosses are pegged at $27 million, a figure producer Jim McPherson declines to confirm or deny.

“It was written to empower women and it’s a very happy 90 minutes in the theater,” says McPherson of the retooled Australian version. “A lot of people go two or three times.”

Producer Andrew Kay says there’s nothing new about hit women’s theater, recalling that “Shirley Valentine” and “Steaming” are among the biggest plays in the history of Australian theater.

In the ’90s, “Mum’s the Word,” a sendup of motherhood conceived by six actresses, was unstoppable in Oz, with the original Canadian cast, then with a troupe of Aussies.

Kay has licensed “Secret Bridesmaid’s Business,” scribe Elizabeth Coleman’s wedding-eve adultery drama, which opened April 16 in Melbourne’s 880-seat Playhouse Theater. The show broke Malthouse Theater B.O. records when it opened at the end of the previous decade and its strong regional tour, per Kay, left room for further exploitation.

He points out that women go out in groups, will readily commit to dates in advance and are more confident than men when making purchasing decisions. Plus the Australian Rules football season has just kicked off, which is an ideal time to stage distaff productions.

Says Kay: “Women want to escape men watching football.”

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