Megan Cavanagh has consistently hit home runs by being in the right place at the right time — from scoring her first film role in “A League of Their Own” to her current hit turn in “Menopause The Musical.”
She’ll be leading the charge as the Earth Mother when the musical celebrating mood swings and hot flashes swings into the Paramount Theatre on April 29.
She can thank Iowa for this latest change of life in 2004.
Cavanagh, who played frumpy Marla Hooch in the 1992 baseball film starring Tom Hanks, Geena Davis and Madonna, was living in Des Moines when she had a flash to audition for “Menopause The Musical.”
The Chicago-area native spent nine months in her former partner’s capital hometown, buying a house there during “a midlife crisis,” she said by phone from in Los Angeles, where she lives with her wife of 11 years, filmmaker Anne Chamberlain. Their son, 25, is teaching English in China, and Cavanagh can’t wait to visit him in July.
During that “Menopause” stop in Des Moines, however, Cavanagh found out the team was looking for a singer to understudy three roles. She fit the bill, auditioned and was cast. Since then, she’s stepped up to the plate for more than 1,000 turns at bat in a show she described as “just a really fun, rollicking good time.”
It’s the story of four women who meet up in Bloomingdale’s lingerie department, grabbing for the same black bra. Even though they come from very different walks of life — the Professional Woman, the Earth Mother, the Iowa Housewife and the Soap Star — they soon discover they’re all walking the same walk. Their fighting turns into bonding over their shared experiences with hot flashes, night sweats, forgetfulness, sex drives and chocolate cravings.
It’s all set to a soundtrack of musical parodies, including two of Cavanagh’s favorites, “My Husband Sleeps Tonight” and “Puff, My God, I’m Draggin’.” The latter is especially poignant, since the actress, now 56, knew she was born for the spotlight as she strutted the stage singing “Puff, the Magic Dragon” during a prekindergarten show.
“I was supposed to skip along the stage in a giant dragon costume,” she said. “I could see through the mouth, and as I would skip, I would turn and look at the audience, and the whole audience would go, ‘Oh!’ and I would think, ‘I’m the scariest dragon ever.’”
In reality, she was just an inch from falling off the stage. In her mind, “I had the entire audience in the palm of my hand and I thought, ‘I want to do this for my life. This is it.’”
She became an avid play reader and theatergoer. After graduating from Oak Park and River Forest High School — alma mater to author Ernest Hemingway, comedian Kathy Griffin, actress Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Cecily Strong from “Saturday Night Live” and rapper Ludacris — Cavanagh majored in theater at Dominican University in nearby River Forest, Ill.
She jumped into roles offstage and onstage in Chicago’s Body Politic Theatre, moved to Los Angeles in 1988, joined the Second City troupe there, and in 1990, saw that women who could play baseball were needed for an upcoming film. But before they could even audition, they had to prove their mettle on the field. She played well, was granted an audition, and wound up in “A League of Their Own,” which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
“It was the first movie audition I had ever done, and it was just amazing. The whole thing was amazing,” she said. “It was completely being in the right place at the right time.”
That film was “the springboard to everything,” she said. “It gave me my career.”
More movies followed, including the Mel Brooks comedies “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” and “Dracula: Dead and Loving It,” as well as TV roles and voice work in several “Jimmy Neutron” animated features.
But it’s her current work at the Earth Mother in “Menopause The Musical” that hits home on so many bases.
“She is this very loving and maternal and warm gal who is going through mood swings that she’s not understanding and is trying to meditate her way out of,” Cavanagh said. “She has these sort of outbursts because of being so tired. She’s an insomniac and she has mood swings — not a great combo. The other gals lovingly tease her about it, into realizing she’s going to be OK, and we’re all OK.
“This character is very much me. I was suffering from many of her symptoms. In fact, I’ve been singing and dancing this part so long I thought maybe I brought it on — life imitating art imitating life,” she said with a laugh.
“I’ve persevered through, I’m happy to say. sleeping through the night again, so this too shall pass.”
She also persevered through a hysterectomy in 2010 that kicked her into menopause, to the point where her hot flashes steamed up car windows. Then breast cancer hit in 2014. She sat out the show for nine months while undergoing treatment.
“I finished chemo and radiation went back on the road bald,” she said. Wigs were so uncomfortable, however, that the producer said she didn’t need to wear them. She was astounded by the audience reaction embraced her onstage and with big hugs afterward.
“It was really empowering for cancer patients and those that had gotten through it to see a fellow survivor up there. It was really important to me to go back to work as soon as I could. I was driven. I needed to go back to work because it’s so much a part of who I am now. I’d been doing it for so long that to not do it felt really weird,” she said.
“I have a clean bill of health and I’m grateful every day.”
WHAT: “Menopause the Musical”
WHERE: Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: 8 p.m. April 29
TICKETS: $45.50 to $55.50, Paramount Ticket Office, (319) 366-8203 or Paramounttheatrecr.com