On paper, the idea of seven women over fifty wearing garish red hats and purple outfits proclaiming how wonderful it is to get older in song and dance must rate right behind “Root Canal: The Musical” as an enticing endeavor. But wait, there’s more: late seventies/early eighties pop singer Melissa Manchester penned some of the music and stars in it (though only through July 1). And perky Kathie Lee Gifford wrote some of the lyrics. Need I say more? Oh, and yes, mature matriarchal audience members who call themselves the Red Hat Society do show up dressed like the characters and mouth along with the songs and every laugh in the show and join in an elderly estrogen-fest finale where they put on their hats at an announced life-affirming moment: sort of “Rockin’ Chair Horror Picture Show.” But “Hats!”—a musical that is barely six months old and which is already sparking productions across the globe, is not only speaking to its apparent target audience of middle-class fading family-oriented females who spent their lives placating their husbands, shopping, looking for gerbils, making school lunches, watching “Oprah” and sewing costumes for school plays—most powerfully hits its target when it addresses the grim realities of aging head on with no punches pulled, but rather with the ability to laugh at ourselves when we can’t hear, can’t see, forget where we’ve put things and repeat stories a half dozen times to the same people, or when gravity takes its toll on our body parts, our friends and family members are dead and we look in the mirror and think we’re seeing a parent—or even a grandparent—instead of ourselves. “I don’t remember when I became an ember and not a flame,” MaryAnne sings on the eve of her fiftieth birthday, “Where does the fire go that burns, but doesn’t show?” The songs are melody-driven, tuneful pop, the lyrics are witty and the insights are universal, which is why this show is striking such a deep and resonant chord with audiences and keeps extending its run. The entire cast is first-rate, and each can sing their hearts out and make you cry or laugh at the drop of, well, a hat. (Dennis Polkow)
Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted, (312)988-9000. Thu 2pm & 7:30pm/Fri 7:30pm/Sat 2pm & 5:30pm/Sun 3pm/Wed 2pm & 7:30pm. $55. Through Aug 26.