While based on the mission of the Red Hat Society — a growing org founded in 1998 to celebrate women over 50 — new musical revue “Hats!” is colored less in red than in bright and cheery pastels. This light theatrical entertainment of the most commercial and well-targeted type plugs into the highly relatable life experiences of the most theater-oriented demographic and looks to do for ladies’ night what “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” has done for date night. Following stints in Denver and New Orleans, the show’s extendable run in Chicago will likely be a harbinger for mid-size, long-lasting regional productions galore.
“Hats!” is the type of show where spunk and spirit rule over deep epiphanies or convincing characterizations. A patchwork of pop from a plethora of songwriters, the numbers here revolve around themes associated with women growing older, acknowledging the challenges while always accentuating a sense of victory.
Worried about sex after 50? A perfect one-liner delineating potential defeatism — “We’re at the age where food replaces sex. I’ve just had a mirror put over my kitchen table.” –is followed by an insistently triumphant, sassy song called “My Oven’s Still Hot.”
Such formulaic fun doesn’t need more than meek dramaturgy to sustain it, which is what book writers Marcia Milgrom Dodge and Anthony Dodge provide. MaryAnne (songwriter Melissa Manchester), a woman about to turn 50 and upset about it, comes to terms with the next stage of her life by talking to a puppet named Ruby and listening to songs delivered by her mother (Marilyn Bogetich) and friends, so consciously archetypal that they bear names like Duchess and Princess.
There’s the divorced business executive figuring out how to date again (Vickie Daignault), the devoted mother and wife dealing with empty-nest syndrome (Rosalyn Rahn Kerins) and other vague but easily identifiable figures taking on life as all women do or will eventually know it.
The basic message, of course, is that life improves after 50 — “The Older the Fiddle, the Sweeter the Tune,” as one song goes. The looming danger of growing older and losing one’s sense of identity from family or work, emotionally depicted in the Manchester-written song “Invisible,” can be remedied by putting on a red hat, sure to be noticed in a crowd, and taking on the world. The only obstacle to happiness is one’s own self-imposed limits, swept away in the song “Yes We Can,” in which women learn to play golf, do yoga and tap dance.
Director-choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett (“Swing”) invests the show with a rousing sensibility — its high spirits perpetually come through. And while Manchester isn’t a completely comfortable stage presence at the center here, a bunch of polished performers show why “Hats!” really will be welcome on the nation’s stages for some time to come: There just aren’t enough roles for women this age.
Making the biggest impression here are Laura Walls, who delivers the sexy sizzle of “My Oven’s Still Hot” with decided conviction, and Nora Mae Lyng, serving double duty as the Phyllis Diller-ish Ruby and the Carmen Miranda-ish Contessa.
Ultimately, “Hats!” really does satisfy, largely because it knows exactly what it wants to express, and it does so without the slightest sense of cynicism. This is a feel-good show that’s really about feeling good.