OFD actress makes triumphant return in musical

Carolynne Warren plays a menopausal housewife in the hit production, "Menopause the Musical," but this award-winning actress is at the prime of her career and happy to be back to her Dorchester roots.

Warren, 46, who grew up in the Geneva Avenue neighborhood but now lives in Los Angeles, has returned with her off-Broadway cast to perform at the Stuart Street Playhouse.

"I have many fond memories of the Dorchester community," said Warren, who had not resided in Boston for 24 years. "I was pretty much a homebody growing up, much of my social life revolved around St. Peter's Church [on Bowdoin Street]. It's where I had my first communion and confirmation. As a young adult I spent a lot of my time at Neponset Circle. There were a lot of school dances over there at Florian Hall."

Warren's passion for the arts began with piano lessons taught by a neighbor on Geneva and dance classes at Mary Anne's School of Dance and Tap, in nearby Fields Corner.

"I began performing at the age of five, singing and dancing. All through high school [Boston Latin School] I was part of the choir at the All Saints Church, near Ashmont," said Warren.

Being a resident in Dorchester is like being part of an extended family, says Warren, as she describes a time the community came to her aid.

"During my senior year in high school I was invited to join the United States all-student choir which would involve a tour around Europe. My family could not afford this so a bunch of residents and local businesses raised the money and made it possible for me to go. I will never forget it. Many people fall in love with L.A. [where Warren currently resides], but my heart will always be in Dorchester."

Warren, who launched her career in Chicago shortly after graduating from Harvard University with a degree in theater arts, says acting is a form of self-expression.

"Whether it is through crafts or writing, it's about expressing what I couldn't in my daily life," she says. "It's like a child playing and exploring to your heart's content and nothing is holding you back."

While working towards a master's degree in music, Carolynne says she continued to audition and won her first role in Pirates of Penzance at the age of 28. A turning point in her career, Warren says, was participating in Second City - a comedy-training program in Chicago.

"It taught me how to connect one on one with my audience and also inspired me to write my own material," said Warren.

Soon after completing the program in 1995, Warren began developing her own one-woman shows such as Caroling Carolynne and Misfits - both produced by the Milwaukee Repertory and widely successful. She joined Menopause in 2006 after a friend in the cast broke her ankle after a show. Warren, who plays a devoted housewife and nurturing mother (on set), says she can sometimes relate to her character. "She enjoys her life, but at the same time is intrigued by the glamorous lifestyle," said Warren of her role. "She has all these magazines about Hollywood socialites and is curious about their glitzy lifestyles. She has a childlike excitement about everything, yet you can see she wants something more. Over it all she is trying to deal with her fears of becoming less desirable to her husband as she ages."

"I can definitely relate to my character because, like her I have this childlike optimism," continued Warren. "There is a part of me that's like five years old and is always excited and always wants more."

"Menopause the Musical" chronicles the lives of four women over forty dealing with the challenges of female aging; from relationships and hormones to wrinkles and dignity.

"The women in the audience feel heard and understood," said Warren. "After shows female audiences always approach the actress to express their appreciation. Recently one woman told me it was her eighteenth time seeing the show while another woman said to me 'I can't believe you got me to laugh about something I have been so ashamed of.'"

"I have been very lucky to have people come to me throughout my career and tell me how I've touched them," continued Warren. "I feel blessed to be able to have an impact on people."

Currently living in L.A., Warren says she is ecstatic to return home [Boston]. "This means more to me than anyone could ever know," she said. "For the first time since I left for Chicago, last week my parents finally saw me perform and it was so emotional. My mother could not stop crying and neither could I. It's so great to be back here."

Since the debut of "Menopause the Musical" in 2001, it has been performed worldwide: Australia, Israel and Italy to Malaysia, South Africa and South Korea. It is currently playing in Las Vegas, and Dublin, Ireland, and is scheduled to open in more than 20 cities next year.

In Boston, performances are hosted at the Stuart Street Playhouse at Radisson Hotel in Boston. Hours are Wednesday through Friday evenings at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.. Tickets for all performances are priced at $45 and groups of 15 or more are priced at $38.

The rest of the cast includes other Boston actresses such as Kathy St. George, Mary Callanan and Lisa Mack.

"The message the show delivers is one of self acceptance and respect," said Warren. "It illustrates a sisterhood in knowing that we all go through it together. So why not sing and dance while we age?"