125 years of Mask and Wig musical theater

Mask and Wig

Scott Spitzer

Beginning Friday, Jan. 25, Mask and Wig, the nation’s oldest all-male collegiate musical comedy troupe, will stage “Beautopia: A Face Odyssey.”

After 125 years, Penn’s Mask and Wig club will once again honor its motto, “Justice to the stage and credit to the University,” with an original production that explores a time-traveling hero’s struggles to teach a society to value its members for more than their good looks.

Beginning Friday, Jan. 25, the nation’s oldest all-male collegiate musical comedy troupe will stage “Beautopia: A Face Odyssey,” co-written by club members Jonah Meyerson, Kevin Seelaus, and William Seife. Mask and Wig alumnus Neil Radisch composed the show’s music.

The story is set in a fictional future world in which all of society’s ills have been solved—there’s no such thing as poverty or hunger—yet an individual’s worth is determined purely by his or her physical beauty.  

The 43 undergraduate members of Mask and Wig’s cast, crew, musicians, and business staff will put on the show with assistance from the club’s active alumni group and select professional production staff. Performances will run weekends through Saturday, April 6.

“The defining feature of Mask and Wig productions is the guys in drag in the end-of-the-show kick line, which always has a themed costume,” says Mask and Wig Chairman Ryan Dew. “Last year’s show, ‘A Reptile Dysfunction,’ featured green sequined dragon costumes, with matching green wings.”

Mask and Wig has a rich history interwoven with Penn’s own. Founded in 1889 by a small group of Penn undergraduates, the group began planning and holding burlesque-style performances, putting on its first show at the Chestnut Street Opera House. In 1894, the club purchased its own theater and clubhouse space at 310 South Quince Street, a building it still owns and uses for performces.

Wig

Scott Spitzer

A defining feature of Mask and Wig productions is men in drag performing in an end-of-the-show kick line.

“When you graduate and are elected to the graduate club, each member receives a caricature of themselves on the wall [of the clubhouse] and hangs a German-style drinking stein by it,” says Harrison Lieberfarb, the group’s secretary-treasurer.

Such mementos pay tribute to the robust alumni network of Mask and Wig. The undergraduates who make up the club receive abundant support from the nearly 400 members of the Alumni Club.

“Generally they’re here to support us and take care of the details of managing our clubhouse and the endowment and everything that needs consistent attention year after year that might have more to it than undergrads are typically capable of dealing with,” says Dew.

“We’re so steeped in University history,” says Lieberfarb. “It’s a definable ‘Penn’ thing to do.”

Tickets to the show are available for purchase at the Mask and Wig website or by calling 215-586-3729.

Originally published on January 17, 2013