Lawrence Toppman

‘Cougar the Musical:’ Claws, flaws and applause

Grant Zavitkovsky and Taffy Allen discuss gender-related issues in “Cougar the Musical” at Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte.
Grant Zavitkovsky and Taffy Allen discuss gender-related issues in “Cougar the Musical” at Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte. George Hendricks Photography

On occasion, I have wished I were a middle-aged woman. Not “wished” in a Caitlyn Jenner take-it-all-the-way mode, but in a “Freaky Friday” body-switch way. One of those occasions came Wednesday night at Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte, as I watched the regional premiere of “Cougar the Musical.”

I saw a gently funny, sometimes tuneful fable about self-affirmation, interspersed with jokes (many of them mildly naughty and/or familiar) about looking for love in all the thong places. But I wonder whether I’d have had a different take if I’d had five decades of different experiences.

Composer-lyricist-playwright Donna Moore has adapted the material for at least one character from her life: Entertainer Lily (Josephine Hall) has twice been married to guys named Gary and now has kids and divorce papers on which the ink is wet. Her self-esteem’s so low you could scrape it off her shoes. Over time, she learns to love herself, which may be more important than any other romance she finds.

The other two women are caricatures, and their intentionally silly encounters earn more smiles than empathy. Once-sheltered Southern girl Mary-Marie (Taffy Allen) runs a cougar bar and hooks up online with guys named Bourbon Cowboy and Naked Peter. Executive Clarity (Ericka Ross) quits her job to go back to graduate school and study the cougar phenomenon, never imagining she’d grow age-appropriate claws herself.

Director-choreographer Tod A. Kubo takes Lily and new boyfriend Buck (Grant Zavitkovsky) seriously, encouraging an emotional response from the audience. (Zavitkovsky also plays four other male characters and a manicurist in drag.) Kubo otherwise maintains a light, unrealistic tone that suits the material. Hall does subtle work in Act 2, with an assist from Zavitkovsky; the other performances remain broad.

By the end, you could think of these women as representing three kinds of self-fulfillment.

Lily understands her own psychology and grows stronger by that understanding. Clarity has a vigorous spirit expressed in the song “Say Yes,” where she encourages women to accept all kinds of experiences (good and bad) in order to evolve. Mary-Marie, so body-conscious all the way, finds a suitor who can satisfy physical needs while answering others, too.

Or maybe Moore just wants us to enjoy a ribald, raucous night out in which she teases familiar stereotypes. If I had an extra X chromosome, I’d probably be sure.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

‘Cougar the Musical’

Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte does Donna Moore’s comedy about older women, younger men and eternal values.

WHEN: Through June 27 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday and 8 p.m. Friday-Sunday. Also 2:30 p.m. June 21.

WHERE: 650 E. Stonewall St.

RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes.

TICKETS: $26-$31.

DETAILS: 704-343-2251 or atcharlotte.org.

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