When you’re putting on a musical that features songs from the ’60s and a Supreme wants in, you make room for her.
Mary Wilson, who was a founding member of the Motown hitmakers, joins “Menopause: The Musical” for five shows in Jacksonville this weekend.
The show, which has played dozens of times in Jacksonville over the last decade, features four characters — the Professional Woman, the Earth Mother, the Soap Star and the Iowa Housewife — who sing about chocolate and sex and hot flashes. Wilson plays a new, fifth character that was created for “Laverne & Shirley” star Cindy Williams in a Las Vegas run of the show. It will be Wilson’s first appearance in “Menopause.”
“This just adds another element to the play and takes it to another level,” Wilson said in a phone interview from her home in Las Vegas.
Wilson and her high school friends, Florence Ballard, Diana Ross and Betty McGlown, formed a singing group, the Primettes, in 1959. They signed with Motown Records in 1962, changed their name to the Supremes and made musical history, with 12 No. 1 singles. Wilson stuck it out after Ross left the group in 1970 and headed the Supremes for another seven years before starting a career as a solo artist and writing a pair of best-selling autobiographies.
Wilson said she’s done a little musical theater over the years but fell in love with “Menopause” after seeing it in Las Vegas. “I went to see the play and just loved it, I absolutely adored it. So it’s been on my back burner of things I’d like to do because I want to get back to doing plays. It’s just a hilarious show and I thought I’d have fun doing it.”
The rest of the cast has been together for a while. Wilson said they don’t seem to be at all intimidated to have a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer join the cast.
“No one said anything. I have no idea what the talk is behind my back. I would hope they would be thrilled to have me join them. It gives them something different to do. Sometimes when you do the same thing every night, it gets to be mundane.”
The show uses altered-lyrics songs from the Supremes era — “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “Chain of Fools,” “My Guy” — but no actual Supremes songs. At least not yet.
“I’m hoping that maybe once I get it under my belt they will add something,” Wilson said. “They have Shirelles songs in there, they have my favorite lady, Brenda Lee. So, yes, a Supremes song would fit in there.”
It wouldn’t be difficult to give the “Menopause” treatment to, say “Stop! In the Name of Love” or “Baby Love,” but Wilson said she might have a hard time with it at first — she’s sung those songs thousands of times and learning the new lyrics would be tough. But Wilson said she appreciates a good challenge.
“I’ve got to learn new choreography and I’ve got to learn new lyrics to songs I already know,” she said. “That is going to be like a brain twister. It’s a little challenging, but it’s a good challenge that keeps you sharp.”