When playwright Jeanie Linders interviewed translator Vivis Colombetti for the job of translating her 2001 show Menopause The Musical into Spanish, Colombetti couldn't get the scribe to laugh. Linders was “very no-nonsense,” Colombetti explains.
As the interview wound down, Linders asked why Colombetti should be hired to translate Menopause into Spanish. After listing several qualifications, Colombetti landed her final joke. “I said, 'Finally, I should tell you, I'm currently menopausal,'” she recalls. “And she finally laughed.”
Seven years later, Colombetti's translation of the show is finally on its feet, at the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre, where it began last month. L.A. Weekly asked her about the challenges of translating the musical, which depicts four middle-aged women shopping for lingerie and singing about getting older.
On keeping the humor:
A first attempt at a literal translation lost some of the show's comic elements. “I'm not a composer,” Colombetti admits. “[I] translated the show, and then I worked with a composer friend of mine, and I asked him to help me … make sure it was funny.”
On maintaining the relevance of the music:
Menopause The Musical features riffs on popular American hits, like “Please Make Me Over” (instead of Dionne Warwick's “Don't Make Me Over”). But not all of them translate. “The Beach Boys were not at all popular in our countries,” Colombetti says, referencing the show's parody of “Good Vibrations.” As a result, audiences really have to listen to the lyrics, instead of getting the joke as soon as the familiar chords come in.
On making sure all dialects of Spanish feel included:
“There are so many Spanish variations,” Colombetti says. “We have to make it a friendly Spanish to all Spanish-speaking countries.”
On what the Spanish version of the show will bring to the original work:
“Latins are spicier,” Colombetti says with a laugh. “We love double entendre.”
On other musicals she'd want to translate:
“[Stephen] Sondheim would be a huge challenge, because everything is so descriptive,” she says, mentioning that many of her favorites like Oklahoma! and A Chorus Line have already been translated.
Menopausia El Musical is now running at the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre in Hollywood.
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