Lippa's Wild Party
Since everybody loves a party, why not have a pair? And that's just what came to town in spring of 2000. Theater fans and experts went round and round comparing and judging which Wild Party was the best - Broadway's incarnation by Michael John LaChiusa or the off-Broadway show by Andrew Lippa. Both offer a very different approach to the source material, but neither lasted long enough to be considered a financial success.
The Wild Party is a very realistic story of a fragile relationship gone wrong during the Prohibition days of the 1920's in New York. Queenie, a sultry, sweet/tough dancer who's fed up with her boyfriend's angry and abusive treatment, decides to throw a party to humiliate him. That's where things get a bit wild. An eccentric guest list pours in, each having a story of their own. The vivacious Kate with her new beau, the mysterious Black both stir up the emotions to an all time high. The evening turns from seduction and heated passion to destruction and murder, which is much more than Queenie bargained for.
There are some amazingly strong yet distractingly difficult aspects about the Media's production of The Wild Party. Director Jesse Cline confided to me that the characters and wonderful score in this piece intrigued him. Indeed the casting of the four leads at Media are so solid and well delivered that you are totally caught up in their moments. The score is infectious and has a contemporary flair with a touch of jazz, blues, ballads and comedy. "Out of The Blue," "Poor Child," and "Maybe I Like It This Way" are just a few highlights of a passionate score by Andrew Lippa.
Lippa, who also wrote the book, places a strong focus on the two main couples and allows their characters to become the nucleus, which the supporting cast plays around. There is little doubt as to who Queenie should end up with as well as Kate. Much like a musical soap opera, The Wild Party unfolds an evening of raw and unapologetic passion that gets a bit too in your face for perhaps the average theater patron.
Cline's excellent choice of casting and direction is hindered a bit. Too often the ensemble is downstage mixing it up while the main character(s) are delivering a heart wrenching song or scene, making it difficult to know where the main focus should be. This is not helped by the fact that some of the scenes are blocked by two giant steel beams that are meant to separate the bedroom from the living room/kitchen.
Other than this, it is difficult to take your eyes off the actors and action taking place as each character reveals him/herself. From the moment Queenie opens her mouth to sing, she captures your heart with her sultry voice and sexy, vulnerable presence. She lights up each scene with style. Jessica Leigh Brown (Queenie) is no stranger to the stage, coming from Broadway's Nine with Antonio Bandares and several other enviable credits. Stephen Alexander Horst plays Burrs, Queenie's vaudeville comic turned neurotic boyfriend. Horst delivers solid vocals and an especially passionate " What Is It About Her?" His rendering of an abusive character is more of a confused, frustrated weakling in reality.