'The D* Word' can't match 'Menopause'

“Do you want to talk about it?” one sympathetic friend asks another in “The D* Word.”

You bet she does.

That’s what these four friends do. They talk, talk, talk, whether it’s their suburban version of “Sex in the City” ribaldry in a cocktail lounge, or going all Oprah with the self-help sentiment in one character’s living room.

And if some Dice Clay kinda guy should say, “What do you expect when you put four chicks together? It’s what they do,” he will not be saying it on the stage of the Shimmer Cabaret at the Las Vegas Hotel.

That’s because “The D* Word — A Musical (*Ditched, Dumped, Divorced, Dating)” is the new attempt to create a female-bonding experience by Jeanie Linders, whose “Menopause The Musical” works so well as a ladies night out it’s almost interactive theater.

But this one is, so far at least, a clumsy attempt that doesn’t yet match the communal, exuberant fun of the hit still playing at the Luxor.

Linders said she wrote “D* Word” with the Shimmer specifically in mind, using the room to envision the right dynamic balance of theater and cabaret revue. But that knowledge now seems surprising.

You see, “D* Word” is very clearly a play, a more ambitious work than “Menopause” complete with sets, blackouts for scene changes and — did we mention? — lots of dialogue.

The party promise is broken on both sides of the stage.

On this night at least, the older audience was of no mind to fill and drain the plastic shot glasses that come with a ticket (one of the biggest laughs came from a joke about Applebee’s). But why would they, really? The product onstage asks them to sit quietly and pay enough attention to sort out the four characters and their problems.

There’s Erica (Angie McKnight), trying to break 14 years of celibacy. DeeDee (Maddie Casto) isn’t sure what to do with herself after a 20-year marriage. Kate (Laura Wright) just wants to get pregnant. Jen (Sarah Hester Ross) brings them all together after a speed-dating event, with the sloppy-drunk confession that her fiance has left her for another man.

None of this develops into much in the way of plot. But it gives the ladies a chance to cover a jukebox score of hits through the years, from The Miracles’ “Shop Around” to Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).”

Three of the four cast members debuted the new musical in Orlando earlier this year. But it still comes off like a workshop version, in need of a red pencil for about 10 of the 90 minutes. The dialogue has no rhythm and clutters the lines that do get laughs.

The players definitely have the musical chops, and you can tell they are most comfortable when it comes time to sing the can’t-miss songs. But none of them — nor perhaps director-choreographer Mayme Paul — know how to steamroll their boss’s weak writing like some of the veterans in “Menopause,” who race through flat stretches and wring laughs from lines that don’t really deserve them.

There are still several moments when you see how all this is supposed to work.

The suppressed cabaret element occasionally bounces to life, as when Casto twirls with her hair brush as a microphone, singing “Hot Stuff” in anticipation of her first date in years, or charges into the audience to deliver “Before He Cheats.”

But more of the numbers, such as a promising version of Duffy’s “Mercy,” just never take off. A lot of the time, it’s because the singers are locked down to recorded backing tracks. This sad trend has infiltrated Las Vegas shows of all budgets, but these tracks in particular sound like they come from a cheap keyboard.

Still, you can’t underestimate Linders’ understanding of her audience. Sex toy gags and lines about waxing salons get big chuckles. And a silent bit — DeeDee spray-painting the bottom of her pumps red — gets a laugh that reminds confused male critics this show ain’t singin’ to them.

And yet, when one character declares she misses the Oprah show? My thought was one I never even thought possible to enter my head: “And I miss ‘Menopause.’ ”

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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