Sunday, July 5, 2015

Review: Motherhood the Musical

From the producers of "Meniopause the Musical" comes "Motherhood the Musical," an all-for-fun look being a mom, at Society Hill Playhouse. Inquirer theater critic Howard Shapiro reviews.

Review: Motherhood the Musical

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The cast of "Motherhood the Musical":From left, Donnie Hammond, Ilona Ahearn, Ashley Turba and Ellie Mooney. Turba, an understudy, leaves the role this week. Photo by Scott Weiner.

By Howard Shapiro


I can’t think of a mother, present and probably future, who wouldn’t get a good laugh out of the new and polished musical revue called Motherhood the Musical, the touring show that Society Hill Playhouse opened over the weekend.

And that goes for lots of fathers, too. I was there, laughing with the rest of them, at stuff us dads have heard about from the moms ever since kids came into our lives: the constant cries of “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!,” the stretch marks, the weight gains, the frustrating imbalances of raising
kids and caring for everything else.

I admit that the song about loose bladders -- one of the best in the 90-minute one-act -- gave me pause but also made me laugh. “I leak like a senator in Congress,” sings one character, in a lyric typical of the show’s cheeky lines.

Motherherhood, in any case, is clearly a musical for women, who will identify with every little piece of it as if they and the characters on stage had been born into some secret society, now exposed by Sue Fabisch, who wrote the songs in collaboration with others, and by a cast of four women with wonderfully cartoonish expressions and body language.

The tale, a simple framework for 20 songs, plus an overture and a reprise, centers on Amy (Ellie Mooney), pregnant and about to give birth in three weeks. Her three pals, all experienced moms, surprise her with an
intimate baby shower a week before her big-deal shower is to take place. The four women dish about motherhood and pregnancy, the topics of the hour. (Adoptive moms in the audience may be surprised at how much of the show involves pregnancy as a standard part of its motherhood theme.)

Each of the buddies has a distinct character: Tasha (Donnie Hammond) is the divorced mom; Brooke (Ilona Ahearn) is the lawyer who juggles court appearances with soccer runs; Barb (I saw understudy Ashley Turba) has made raising her kids her career.

That’s enough different types to give plenty of advice, which they do: “Minivan” is the name of one song, and others are “The Kids Are Finally Asleep” and “Baby Weight Blues.” You can guess which character sings “Every Other Weekend” and often they all sing, as in “Not Gonna Take It Anymore”: “I’m not cooking, I’m not cleaning/ Gonna blow up the washing machine…”

Some tunes are better than others, but there’s not a bad number in the show, which is produced by the same people who put Menopause the Musical on the road. That show occupied Society Hill Playhouse four years.

Motherhood has a peppy orchestration, but a recorded one, which takes some fun out of the live-theater musical. But its cast is very much in the present; the four women play -- and sing -- the show for all the fun it’s worth.

"Is it going to hurt?” asks Amy, the woman about to give birth. “The delivery? Or the next 18 years?” responds Barb. In the topsy-turvy life Motherhood explores, it all hurts. Yet somehow, it all feels good.

Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727,, or #philastage on Twitter. Read his recent work at Hear his reviews at the Classical Network,


Motherhood the Musical: At Society Hill Playhouse, 507 S. Eighth St.,
through Feb. 19. Tickets: $45. Information: 215-923-0210 or  


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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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