She has battled breast cancer, undergone a partial mastectomy and experienced the full flush of menopause, all while going from a size 8 to a size 14.
“I’m singing from a place of knowing now that I wasn’t in in 2004,” said Cavanaugh, an actress whose screen credits include “A League of Their Own,” “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” and “The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.” “I have hot flashes on stage.”
Cavanaugh, 55, plays the warm, playful Earth Mother in “Menopause The Musical” Tuesday at the Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo.
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The production, subtitled “The Survivor Tour,” seeks to celebrate women and their bodies while drawing attention to breast cancer.
Two of the cast members — Cavanaugh and Teri Adams, who plays an Iowa housewife — are cancer survivors, whereas the other two have cared for cancer patients. In addition, $2 from each ticket sold benefits the nonprofit organization Susan G. Komen, which is dedicated to ending breast cancer.
The premise of “Menopause The Musical,” which premiered in 2001 in Orlando, Fla., is simple: Four middle-aged women — a hippy, a housewife, a professional woman (Linda Boston) and a soap opera star (Judy Blue) — find themselves in a department store feuding over the same on-sale lacy black bra.
They discover through a series of comedic song parodies and dance routines that they have more in common than previously thought. Each is going through the natural decline in reproductive hormones known colloquially as “the change.”
“Menopause The Musical” marries pithy humor about weight gain, insomnia, memory loss and mood swings with spoofs of pop and rock hits from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. “Puff the Magic Dragon” becomes “Puff, My God I’m Draggin’,” whereas “Stayin’ Alive” is transformed into “Stayin’ Awake” and “My Guy” is reimagined as “My Thighs.” (Due to adult content, the show is recommended for ages 17 and up.)
Cavanaugh said her character in “Menopause The Musical,” Earth Mother, experiences a personality change as the result of menopause.
“She’s very warm and nurturing. She’s very loving and positive,” the actress said, but becomes “crabby and yelling” due to hormonal shifts. “She just has to figure out what’s going on with her.”
Acknowledging that she shares Earth Mother’s interest in meditation and Eastern philosophy, Cavanaugh said she enjoys playing the character “because she laughs a lot.”
“I’ve loved every minute of it because it’s so empowering and so silly and fun,” she said of the experience.
In particular, Cavanaugh appreciates the chance to openly discuss something that affects scores of women.
“These days, in film and television, there’s not that much directed toward … women of a certain age,” Cavanaugh said, whereas “Menopause The Musical” is aimed squarely at that demographic. “Women need to talk about this stuff. We need to know what’s normal and what’s not. We need to know about our bodies.”
“The audience members come up to us after the show and say, “Oh god, I thought I was going crazy. (I just realized) I’m in menopause,’ ” she said.
According to Cavanaugh, a typical audience might feature crown-wearing women celebrating their 50th birthdays, Red Hat Society members in ruby hats and purple dresses and a handful of husbands and boyfriends.
“Men always come in so reluctantly — ‘Oh, my wife dragged me here’ — and they leave laughing and smiling,” she said, plus a better sense of what their loved ones are going through. “So we’re saving marriages. That’s what we’re doing!”
“This show will educate you. It will make you laugh. It will make you realize you are in a great enormous community of women going through the same thing, and that’s empowering,” Cavanaugh added.
“If we haven’t made your cheeks hurt from laughing,” she said, “we haven’t done our job.”
7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Cohan Center, Cal Poly
$42 to $72
756-4849 or www.calpolyarts.org