BRISTOL — It’s all about being 50 and believing that the best is yet to come. This is the primary message of “Hats!” the musical that opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House. The seven women in the Elkhart Civic Theatre cast use talent and determination to get that point across. “50 is the youth of old age,” says one and it’s obvious that feeling/looking good and being older and wiser are the positives attached to entering the fifth decade whose key words are “Fun” and “Friendship.” The very thin storyline that joins the basic monologues together is tied to a 50th birthday party for Mary Anne (Julie Herrli Castello) who dreads turning the “big 5-0” and counts down her remaining “one hour and 12 minutes” at 49 with mounting dread.
Enter members of the Red Hat Society to shatter the image of 50 as old age by sharing their stories and songs, each leading to the final premise that putting on a Red Hat is the key to a new lease on life. No surprise. It takes only an hour and a half (plus intermission) for Mary Anne to abandon her fears and throw her Red Hat in their ring. If it seems that this particular show would appeal only to females of a certain age (and beyond), that is not entirely true, although it will mean more to Red Hatters than to “outside” observers. Still, the score, which is a conglomeration of tunes by some well-known women including Pam Tillis, Melissa Manchester, Gretchen Cryer, Carol Hall and Kathie Lee Gifford, is character and theme appropriate and holds some lovely ballads as well as catchy up-tempo tunes. Vocally, the septet members do much better individually than as an ensemble. Delivering the songs which go with their character monologues are DeAnna L. (Williams) Carl as Duchess, Jenny DeDario as Princess, Diane Hollis as Contessa, Paula Rast Nichols as Lady, Joan Troyer as Baroness and Pam Weinland as Dame. Castello offers her own solos and spends much of her time chatting with Rudy Red Hat (a puppet voiced by Hollis) whose observations connect the dots — or should I say hats. Each shares the ways in which approaching middle age seemed frightening and the ways in which they conquered their fears. Nichols and DeDario are particularly affecting in delivering quietly powerful ballads with Hollis and Troyer shaking and kicking geriatric fears away via salsa and country tempos, respectively. In bright red feathers, Carl belts the blues and Weinland strikes a familiar chord describing her empty nest. Not surprisingly, “Hats!” contains an abundance of age-directed phrases: “Age is a state of mind and if you don’t mind, no one will”; “Truth is growing up about getting old”; “Age doesn’t matter unless you’re a cheese” but as baby boomers head to social security,there is no denying that these deserve to be said . . . and heard. The pastel-dominated set, designed by John Jay Shoup and painted by Jeffrey Barrick, fits each segment perfectly and the three piece “orchestra,” led by keyboardist Miriam Houck with drummer Mel Moore and bass guitarist Ann Noble, is just right. The sometimes dazzling and always appropriate costumes were designed by Dawn Blessing.
Perhaps fittingly, “Hats!” is directed by Michael Cripe. It continues at the Opera House Friday through Sunday and June 19-20. See ECT link here for times and ticket information.