Unfortunately I did not get to go to the Pasadena Playhouse and see the musical resurrection of the movie Mask. I only had one friend who was willing to go with me and then only with half-price tickets which were available but I was in France for most of the show's run and then my friend had to go to New York during the last week of the run. So no cookies for me. Or "I Ride With Rocky" buttons which were allegedly available in the lobby.
I was curious to hear the new songs written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (who have done Barry Manilow songs I have loved before). The musical also promised to flesh out the story a bit more with a longer running time. Unfortunately, the reviews weren’t all that great.
Sean Mitchell of the LA Times made these points:
“When a play or musical derives from a popular movie, even one more than 20 years old, it is hard -- if not impossible -- to put the film out of your mind, certainly when staged within commuting distance of Hollywood.”
“Allen E. Read, a young actor with a wonderful, emotive tenor, makes Rocky every bit as vivid and touching as Stoltz did. In the other two roles, however, the actresses tend to remind us of how good Cher and Dern were on-screen.”
“The main set, by Robert Brill, provides a painterly evocation of the Southern California suburbs, with a hazy sky dominated by power lines, dark palms and the crests of the San Gabriels. It is humble Azusa, to be precise...”
“A biker clan revealed as an unexpected cradle of homespun values is a hard sell, but it's the sort of transaction made possible through the wiles of Hollywood and musical theater.”
Mitchell actually liked the Mann and Weil music, but didn’t feel the cast pulled off the energy needed to perform them successfully. I was surprised to hear that the character Dozer had some lead vocals. Wasn't he was mute in the film? He sings "Close to Heaven,"
“describing to Rocky the transcendent experience of cruising the Black Hills of South Dakota on the way to an annual bikers' convention.” (Mitchell)
We can picture Cher there at that convention, no? Other songs include:
- "Look at Me" sung near those fun-house mirrors.
- "I Can't" with Rusty singing about drug abuse. Mitchell describes this number interestingly as “her cathartic Act 2 explanation to the Tribe (during an intervention) that her drug abuse is all about enduring the tragedy of her misshapen son. And for some reason, she bestows on Rusty an intrusive Brooklyn accent.”
- "It's a Beautiful World" sung at blind camp when Rocky teaches Diana about colors.
- "Planet Vulkturn" a song which Mitchell describes as “Rocky's stoically defiant response to being rejected by Diana's parents.”
- "Do It for Love" with Rocky singing about The Trojan War in history class.
- "A Woman So Beautiful" lovingly sung by Gar about Rusty.
- "Every Birth" which Mitchell says is “describing every mother's hope for her newborn, slide projections reveal photographs of Rocky as a normal-looking adorable baby, followed by clinical pictures of his later, slowly emerging freakishness. Ouch. Try adding music to that.”
Overall Mitchell felt the musical was too long, a bit mawkish and not cohesive enough, even though the book was written by the screenwriter, Anna Hamilton Phelan, and the film’s makeup man Michael Westmore was also involved but couldn’t “rescue this overwrought idea from itself.”
Another review on Blogcritics written by Robert Machray described the original film this way:
“The tearjerker was a highly successful vehicle for Eric Stoltz, Laura Dern, and the inimitable Cher.”
Inimitable. I love it. It means not capable of being imitated.
He goes on to say,
“Despite the fact that the story was based on real people, it was not the easiest movie to sit through despite its stellar cast and uplifting message. Add music to the mix, and believability is stretched too far.”
Like Mitchell, Machray likes the bike anthem “Look At Me” and “Planet Volturn” (these two reviews spell it differently...I always thought Cher was saying Planet Voltron, myself). But overall Machray says,
“The problem is that several of the numbers are delivered down center, as in a concert, doing nothing to further the action and serving only to tell us more about the character. This can make the show drag, especially at its staggering two hour and 45 minute length. The acting is also a mixed bag. While the principals are all quite good, the chorus is often, well, chorusy. The scenes in the classroom are quite obnoxious...”
“The sets by Robert Brill evoke California's gorgeous sky, power lines, palm trees, and the San Gabriel Mountains.
Living in LA, I would have loved to have seen their depictions of the Inland Empire, which is the main thing that struck me after watching the movie Mask for the first time after moving here.
The run ended on April 13 and wasn’t extended. Of Mice and Men is playing there in a few days.