By Anthony D'Alessandro
By Catherine Wagley
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
GO JOAN RIVERS: A WORK IN PROGRESS BY A LIFE IN PROGRESS Writer-performer Joan Rivers’ confessional play shows the comic legend as both an unapologetically shticky standup preoccupied with female anatomy and the effects of plastic surgery, and as an existential show-business survivor who’s still going strong at 74. These conflicting impulses create a balancing act that Rivers, under Bart DeLorenzo’s soft-touch direction, navigates with ease and intimacy. Douglas Bernstein and Denis Markell also co-wrote the show. (SM) Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Wstwd.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru April 6. (310) 208-5454, www.geffenplayhouse.com.
GO L’EFFLEUR DES SENS Choreographer-director Cati Jean has MC Gregg guide us through this French-style cabaret that consists of nine fleshy, erotic dances performed by the host and a bevy of seven beauties with jaw-dropping precision. The girlie-magazine fantasies that the dances conjure border on the fetishistic, with jail-stripe thigh-highs and lingerie, legs that go all the way up, torsos that sway while the doll-faced women bear expressions of calculated disinterest, or come-hither stares. Gregg’s improvised humor borders on the puerile, but the dancers’ dexterity and skill are beyond reproach. (SLM) King King, 6555 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd., Every other Thursday, 9 p.m.; thru May 29. (323) 960-9234, www.kingkinghollywood.com.
MASK If this can’t draw a youth audience, nothing can. To its credit, the new musical by Anna Hamilton Phelan (book), Barry Mann (music) and Cynthia Weil (lyrics) doesn’t pander to the sentimental “fatal disease of the week” syndrome that’s built into its spine. After UCLA doctors tell 15-year-old Rocky (Allen E. Reed) and his meth-addicted biker mom, Rusty (Michelle Duffy), that the craniodiaphyseal dysplasia that has been progressively contorting Rocky’s face since he was an infant would lead to his demise within months, the diagnosis is mercifully ignored both by Rocky and the musical itself. (Rusty sings that if she kept digging a grave each time they said her boy would die, she could be eating chow mein in China by now.) The story’s core, spun from Peter Bogdanovich’s 1985 movie starring Cher and Eric Stoltz (Phelan was the screenwriter), focuses on the curiously and beautifully adept mothering skills of Rusty and those of her biker tribe, headed by barrel-bellied Dozer (Michael Lanning). Young Rocky — remarkably well-balanced emotionally and an adept scholar — struggles to fit in to his new school, Azuza High, in the San Gabriel Valley. (The real-life Rusty and Rocky lived in Covina and Glendora. Rusty died two years ago in the aftermath of a motorcycle crash in an Azuza intersection; she had recently served a prison term for meth use. Unmentioned in this musical is that she had another son, Joshua, who died of AIDS at age 32.) Unlike in The Phantom of the Opera or Wicked , here the “mask” doesn’t stand for much that’s larger than itself; though it suffers during moments of straining to be epic, Mask is a chamber piece about the tugs and pulls between a wounded mother and her afflicted son, a perfectly amiable and moving domestic musical supported by Mann’s pop ballads and Weil’s often very witty lyrics, ranging from the school-daze farce of High School Musical to the heroic and largely pointless gush of a rock opera. Under Richard Maltby Jr.’s carefully modulated direction, this work-in-progress has many assets. As Rusty, Duffy’s performance and voice are both sublime, as is Robert Brill’s revolving set that features a silhouette of the San Gabriel Mountains punctuated by industrial-scale power lines — talk about capturing a locale with a few symbols. Now this promising musical needs to do the same. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. (no perfs April 2; added perf April 2, 2 p.m.; thru April 20. (626) 356-PLAY. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GO SWEENEY TODD This is the perfect moment for Sweeney Todd. Set during “hard times,” it’s the story of a Fleet Street barber (David Hess) who slits the throats of his customers before sliding their corpses down a chute to the pie shop below, owned by Sweeney’s partner and love interest, Mrs. Lovett (Judy Kaye), who grinds up the deceased into meat pies. John Doyle’s taut concert-style staging has each of the actors double and tripling on musical instruments, thereby providing the company’s accompaniment. The results in two and a half hours of unfettered bliss. (SLM) Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru April 6. (213) 628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.org.
WEST BANK, UK An irreverent take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Oren Safdie and Ronnie Cohen’s musical creates strange bedfellows in Israeli Assaf (Jeremy Cohen) and Palestinian Aziz (Mike Mosallam), who are forced to share a London flat when Assaf returns home after breaking up with his German girlfriend (the first in a series of improbably humorous juxtapositions). The two refuse to live together, so their American landlord, NYC (Janine Molinari), is called upon to arbitrate. However, her loyalties are split between the handsome arms dealer (Assaf) and the enticing drug dealer (Aziz). Receiving no assistance, the roommates decided to make the best of a bad situation, getting close and sharing more than just the flat. The songs, spanning a range of musical styles, lampoon the history of the Middle East conflict as well as its modern incarnations. Cohen’s voice is the strongest, but there are few solos in the ensemble-driven piece, which includes numbers such as the dueling “My Hometown,” the plaintive “Let Me Come Visit America” and the tensely hilarious “Tea Time.” Both Molinari and Anthony Patellis play multiple secondary characters, including reporters, Assaf’s paramour and Aziz’s uncle, plus a couple of suicide bombers. While the cast has good energy, Safdie’s direction lets the heavily allusive material hang too ambiguously between being a bawdy comic romp and a story about real people. Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru April 13. (310) 589-1998. (Mayank Keshaviah)