Theater Reviews

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Pasadena Playhouse
Through April 20


With a book that has a strong sense of personal involvement, attractive music and lyrics, an excellent cast and outstanding production values, a high-powered team led by Anna Hamilton Phelan, the writer of Peter Bogdanovich's 1985 film "Mask," has created a vehicle that could well become an enduring franchise.

As befits a story set in the San Gabriel Valley city of Azusa in the late 1970s, there are retro aspects to the movie being recast as a musical that suggest a revisiting of "Grease" by an artistic team with deeply felt emotional and intellectual values. With its over-arching theme of acceptance; its pop culture references (including one student's "dream lover" being "CHiPs" star Erik Estrada); and dialogue like "You can be a chicken-shit or you can be a mensch," the only thing an aficionado might find missing is a wacky Paul Lynde type, though various among the Tribe (the biker gang) contribute bits of mildly amusing eccentricity.

The familiar characters from the movie are back, led by Rocky (Allen E. Read), the kid with the oversized cranium whose face (depending on your point of view) makes him either freakish or leonine; Rusty (Michelle Duffy), his independent single mom; Gar (Greg Evigan), his surrogate biker dad; and Dozer (Michael Lanning), whose Homeric tales of traveling to the bikers' annual roundup in South Dakota have helped keep Rocky alive more than "the three to six months more" his doctors routinely allot him.

The long first half establishes the story line and the characters, featuring Rocky's retelling of the Trojan War, Rusty's dreams of hope and redemption, Gar's love song to Rusty and a spectacular "Lady From Shanghai" mirrors device for the duet between Rusty and Rocky that brings down the house.

The almost too concise second half, which begins with a minimum of dramatic exposition, includes a gorgeous duet between Rocky and his summer camp love (a charming Sarah Glendening) and what might become a widely quoted ode, his showstopper of a theme song, "Planet Vulkturn."

Duffy is sensational in her musical numbers, which she belts out with life-enhancing technique, and charismatic in her acting. Read gives a tour de force performance with a voice that projects the energy of his youthful exuberance and the lyricism of his adolescent dreams and acts as well as anybody with a heavy-duty makeup job (supplied, as in the film, by Michael Westmore) could. Evigan looks great and sounds good, if a little underpowered. Lanning makes Dozer unforgettable, as does Diane Delano in her dual role as a biker and an unconventional teacher, and James Leo Ryan as a marrying rabbi. The sympathetic, fluid direction by Richard Maltby Jr. enables the audience's enjoyment to be maximized.

Word-of-mouth should be strong, and it would be a pity to miss "Mask" during its relatively short run.

MASK: A NEW MUSICAL BASED ON A TRUE STORY
Presented by Pasadena Playhouse
Credits:
Based on the motion picture "Mask"
Book: Anna Hamilton Phelan
Music: Barry Mann
Lyrics: Cynthia Weil
Director: Richard Maltby Jr.
Musical staging: Patti Columbo
Music director: Joseph Church
Set designer: Robert Brill
Costume designer: Maggie Morgan
Lighting designer: David Weiner
Sound designers: Peter Fitzgerald, Carl Casella
Projection designer: Austin Switser
Makeup: Michael Westmore
Hair and wig designer: Carol F. Doran
Casting: Michael Donovan, Jay Binder
Cast:
Rusty: Michelle Duffy
Rocky: Allen E. Read
Gar: Greg Evigan
Dozer: Michael Lanning
Eric: Alex Barnes
Roadkill: Brad Blaisdell
Sirocco: Katy Blake
Ruben: Ryan Castellino
Retread: Diane Delano
T-Bone: Mark Luna
Diana: Sarah Glendening
Rabbi: James Leo Ryan
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