Megan Cavanagh has gone back to where she came from. In more ways than one.
For the past 14 years, she’s been starring in a touring version of the off-Broadway hit “Menopause The Musical” in the role of Earth Mother. It’s a role she loves, she says, and one she’ll never tire of because it’s just that much fun to do.
And it’s live, which is about as pure as any acting job can be. While movie and television roles tend to pay better, most performers who started out on the stage will tell you nothing can top the adrenaline rush of performing in front of a live audience, where there’s no safety net to bail an actor out of an artistic oops.
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“It’s the immediacy of it, it’s the live audience, it’s all the things that can go wrong and knowing how to handle it,” she says. “I just love all of that. I’m improvisationally trained, so that kind of stuff is great for me. Put it this way, it doesn’t make my palms sweat.”
So it’ll be just another night at the office for Cavanagh when she leads the cast of “Menopause The Musical” onto the stage of the Levoy Theater in Millville 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 20 and 21.
“Menopause” is essentially a musical revue with a funny story behind it about women and how they handle menopause. The score is comprised of parodies of hit songs from the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, Cavanagh explains.
“For instance, ‘Chain of Fools’ is ‘Change of Life,’ ‘Night Fever’ becomes ‘Night Sweatin’, ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ is ‘My Husband Sleeps At Night,’” she says. “It’s so much fun to do that show.”
However, even if she does the musical stage comedy for another 14 years — or even 140 years — audiences aren’t likely to forget the one role that she’s best known for and the one that really launched her acting career, even though she’d already been a working actress for about 10 years.
Cavanagh played switch-hitting slugger and second baseman Marla Hooch in the 1992 Penny Marshall film classic “A League of Their Own.”
The film featured an ensemble cast that included Tom Hanks, Madonna, Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Rosie O’Donnell and Jon Lovitz.
The movie is a fictionalized but accurate account of the World War II-era All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The league was formed by chewing gum magnate Philip Wrigley to provide Americans with a well-played feminine version of the national pastime after many of Major League Baseball’s best male players had been drafted or enlisted and shipped off to war.
Just like the role she plays in “Menopause,” Cavanagh landed the movie part strictly by accident.
She became the throwing and catching partner of an actress who had been asked to audition for “League.”
Cavanagh had some baseball experience because she grew up near Chicago, where the locals played something called Melon Ball, which uses a big 16-inch softball but no gloves.
The ‘accidental’ actress?
Cavanagh accompanied her friend to the audition and was told to stay on the field as much as possible. Even though she wasn’t trying out for a part, director Penny Marshall knew talent when she saw it. Cavanagh — who had already spent a lot of time learning how to hit a real baseball and not a big soft Melon Ball — was literally picked out of left field and cast as hard-hitting Marla Hooch.
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That was just over 25 years ago, but Cavanagh remembers it like it was yesterday. Once she got the part, though, she had to film an early scene in which her character was trying out for a spot on one of the girls’ baseball teams.
“They raced me to the set with a police escort, and when I got there Penny (Marshall) says, ‘Okay, we’re gonna use your double,’” Cavanagh says, doing a very good impression of Marshall. After all the work she’d put in to learn how to hit a real baseball, she wasn’t going to let her double shoot the scene.
“I told her, ‘Penny, I’ve been working so hard (at hitting), you’ve gotta give me a chance,’” Cavanagh says. “And she said, ‘Alright. But you’d better hit every ball.’”
No stunt double needed
That was no cinematic trickery on the screen. During the scene, Cavanagh was actually hitting off a college pitcher who was throwing fastballs up around 80 miles-per-hour. Once, Cavanagh actually hit a screaming line drive that broke one of the gym’s windows.
“I did hit every ball, just like (Marshall) asked,” Cavanagh says proudly and with a light laugh during a recent phone call.
Cavanagh still keeps in touch with many of her teammates on the Rockford Peaches, the team she played for in “League.”
She keeps in touch with Tracey Reiner, who played Betty “Spaghetti,” Ann Cusack, who played Shirley Baker, the player who couldn’t read, and Bitty Schram, right fielder Evelyn Gardner, whose tears after a muffed play prompted a strong rebuke from team manager Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks). His character, an ex-ballplayer-turned-drunk, reprimanded the teary-eyed player that “there’s no crying in baseball.”
“I see Geena (Davis) every so often, because she had us all out for a reunion,” Cavanagh says. “This year is the 25th anniversary of ‘League.’ (Davis) has a film festival in Arkansas, and she invited us all. We went, we played a game, and I got two hits. It’s been 25 years, but I still got two hits.”