Jeanie Linders has inspired a lot of people to think they, too, can create or copy a hit stage show and change their own lives forever.
“My show has been knocked off 14 times by other people,” she said. “There’s ‘Weight Watchers: The Musical,’ ‘Assisted Living: The Musical,’ all written by guys that think it’s different. Because the show was a cash cow.”
The cash cow, as Linders termed it, is “Menopause: The Musical.” Linders created it 18 years ago from a simple seed of an idea—speak to middle-aged baby boomer women by rewriting the lyrics of hit songs of yesteryear.
The musical revue that debuted in an Orlando mall has since been performed in more than 450 cities around the globe. The tour passes through Asheville’s Diana Wortham Theatre Aug. 14 through 19.
“The goal is to sell tickets,” Linders said. “I knew when I was writing ‘Menopause’ it was going to be a success. Don’t ask me how, I just knew.”
Linders sold her rights to the show five years ago and, now, at age 70, she lives in Hendersonville with her two white coton de tulear dogs. Arthritis and other health issues have slowed her physically, but Linders’ still has her mind and fire to create.
With money she earned from “Menopause,” she’s converting a former yarn shop along Greenville Highway into the Center for Art and Inspiration and a neighboring home into a coffeeshop. Linders expects both to open next January, and the center will host visual arts exhibitions and performances.
“My goal was to write a play and get it on the boards and see it be successful. Took me three years,” she said. “After that, there was nothing creative about it. I was bored. How many times can you see four women on stage doing the same thing?”
Linders grew up in Dixon, Ill., became an English teacher and eventually a newspaper reporter and freelance travel writer before moving to Florida to start a marketing firm and ad agency in Orlando. She handled press and traveled with Michael Jackson along his “Victory” tour, worked on projects for Francis Ford Coppola and recruited sponsors for a talk by Cary Grant. She also developed a jazz festival that is still active.
All the while, Linders fostered her own creative impulses. The songs for “Menopause” came to her one after the other—lyrical rewrites that turned the song “Stayin’ Alive” into “Stayin’ Awake” and “Puff the Magic Dragon” to “Puff, My God, I’m Draggin’,” along with more than two dozen other rewritten hits.
“Number one, I knew my audience—I was my audience—and I knew how to get my audience, because it’s places I went to, and they weren’t theater places,” she said. “They were places that my audience lived, like Curves, where they exercised. This wasn’t even heard of in theater marketing. Everybody always tries to sell to theater-ticket buyers. Some of the people that went to my show have never been in a theater before.”
Around the time she wrote “Menopause,” Linders started writing what she envisions as a series of cozy mystery novels. When “Menopause” took off, everything else fell to the side.
“The audience loved it, the critic (for the local paper) hated it,” Linders recalled. “That night, I went into my office, in my condo, my dog had somehow gotten into my office and (pooped) right on my script. So the dog dumped on my script, the critic dumped on my script, but the audience loved it. It wasn’t for the critics. I mean, they sent male critics. What do they know?”
At one point, Linders employed a staff of 26 to handle the demands and logistics of a widely produced show. But as she lost control of the quality from city to city, she also lost interest in her personal involvement. She sold “Menopause,” then grappled with a surprising psychological and spiritual spiral that lasted four years.
“I don’t have kids, so who and what I am is defined by what I do, which is kind of upsetting because that’s not who I am,” she said. “But because I didn’t have a card that said ‘Jeanie Linders, writer/producer of ‘Menopause,’ I didn’t have an identity, and I didn’t know what my next identity was going to be. That’s why it became a very painful experience.”
The Center for Art and Inspiration renewed Linders’ drive. Linders has also picked up her series of cozy mystery novels, and she believes the success of “Menopause” will help attract a publisher.
“I am a goal-oriented person and it usually takes two years from something that pops into my head, and sometimes it fails and sometimes it doesn’t fail,” she said. “If anything is on my tombstone, other than ‘She wrote ‘Menopause: The Musical,’ it’s that I chose to live, not just exist.”