In 1888 a group of University of Penn undergrads formed an all-male theatre troupe outside the traditional theatre disciplines, abandoning classical works by the greats in pursuit of the lighter side of theatre. The Mask and Wig Club’s first production, LULINE, a “borrowed” rendition of Henry Byron’s (cousin to the infamous poet) The Nymphs of the Lurleyburg was an enormous success, a tradition that has continued for 125 years. In 1894 the club purchased property at a historical site on 310 South Quince Street, a welcoming spot for theatregoers to enjoy collegiate burlesque.
BEAUTOPIA: A FACE ODYSSEY is a commentary on superficiality, social injustice and class warfare in our culture, complete with comedic tunes, dance and boys in drag. Our hero paperboy James, played by Chirag Pathre, thaws out after centuries of being frozen enroute to Antarctica. Desperate to make a name for himself, he’s on a quest to defeat the evil dictator Ralph, Zach Tomasovic, set on devouring anything ugly in his path, turning them into beauty cream to create his BEAUTOPIAN society. Think of it as the cast of Dead Poet’s Society meets up with their alter egos in Priscilla Queen of the Desert, complete with a kick line; and you have a zany comedy with a ten piece band and snappy dance numbers.
Though it’s a college production with pricey tickets, Penn didn’t skimp on a director, hiring local talent Matthew Pfeiffer, who’s impressive directing credits include work at the Arden, Walnut Street, the Lantern, PA Shakespeare Festival and his current associate artistic directorship at Theatre Exile.
This production was largely a group effort. As junior and lead antihero Zach Tomasovic reported, six members of the club brainstormed for ten days in Martha’s Vineyard to write the book and lyrics. Lead writer Jonah Myerson claimed some inspiration from Broadway’s THE BOOK OF MORMON and today’s hit sit-coms. Their inspiration is very clear, as the writing is cleverly juvenile, with a slightly leftist slant. (Listen to the lyrics in “Dictator.”) I would expect nothing less from Ivy League actors. Surprisingly, the cast only has one theatre major in the group. They rehearsed for fourteen hours a day during winter break, and their hard work paid off. The show is fun, whimsical, and hits the spot on a cold snowy night, when audiences warm themselves by the fire during intermission, and gaze at the nostalgic college décor on the walls.
Stand out performers include Tomasovic as the evil Ralph; his stage presence and comic timing did not go unnoticed. Though his singing wasn’t particularly strong, Pathre as the underdog hero made up for it with spritely dance moves, total commitment to his character, and command of the stage. Derrick High as Sophie the love interest proved he’s got some singing chops; I wanted to hear more. Danny Rodriguez was hilarious as Pantso, no doubt a tribute to multiple characters played by Antonio Banderas on screen. Memorable numbers include Pathre’s “Pants of Oppression,” homage to the Jets and the Sharks in WEST SIDE STORY, and the tribute to THE MUSIC MAN in “Hero.” Favorite supporting cast members include Andres Martinez as the flatulent robot and Brandon Gleklen in multiple character roles. Kudos to Suzy Zucker’s choreography, Meyerson’s vision, and Pfeiffer’s directing. A good time was had by all.
The club will be taking the show on the road with performances from New York to Florida.
BEAUTOPIA: A FACE ODYSSEY
Jan 25 – Feb 23, 2013
Directed by Matthew Pfeiffer
The Mask and Wig Club
310 South Quince St
Philadelphia, PA 19125