BWW Reviews: Laurel Mill Playhouse's THE WILD PARTY Takes on a Challenge
There is a certain joy that comes with seeing community theatre productions - it is filled with those who genuinely love getting to perform. Currently at Laurel Mill Playhouse, a group of enthusiastic, great performers have taken on Andrew Lippa's THE WILD PARTY in a production that, while fun and lively, unfortunately suffers from some creative decisions and is hindered by the limitations of its small venue.
Based on a 1928 poem by Joseph Mancure March, THE WILD PARTY tells the story of Queenie, a gorgeous performer whose three-year relationship with professional clown Burrs has fizzled out. Desperate to reignite the passion, along with a side of revenge against the abusive Burrs, Queenie throws a night-long party that quickly goes awry.
For those who have only heard the soundtrack of the Lippa version, which premiered off-Broadway during the 1999-2000 theatre season, there is quite a lot more music to the show. Certain characters have vignettes that are close to full songs, and occasionally situations progress with emphasis from the partygoer chorus.
While the extra music adds to the atmosphere, the book of THE WILD PARTY is nearly non-existent. There are only a handful of spoken lines, which usually rhyme. Characters are given almost no development, other than what they experience throughout the actions of the show. This presents a difficulty for the actor, who merely has song lyrics and mental backstory to come up with a character that can evoke emotion from audience members.
There are a few questions in regards to the direction of this show, and choices made by the production team. Choreographer Terrence Bennett definitely puts the actors to work, with a series of complicated dance numbers which, while exciting, didn't seem to consider the size of the stage. A few actors took tumbles into tables, and one was almost dropped. During the pivotal number "Come With Me," the transition afterward suffered from too many logistics, and lagged. When the dance numbers were together, they were great. But when mistakes happened, there was usually cause for safety concerns.
Laurel Mill Playhouse's space also brought struggles in terms of the singing. Sound doesn't carry well in the theatre, and none of the actors wore mics. It seemed as though those who knew every note of their part had to overcompensate, and group phrasing entrances were almost always off. Even individual actors had trouble hearing the band, and mistakes in this score are hard to fix. When the chorus needed to sing as background, it became hard to hear their lines, let alone the ones of the main characters. Musical Director Alice Laurissa should be mindful of her actor's voices, and how well they will be able to hold up by the end of the show's run.
Samantha McEwen as Queenie has a beautiful voice, and the right allure in her stolen glances to Burrs and Black. She does have a tendency to close her eyes during big notes, or look past the audience, losing the potential for an emotional connection with those watching her. Queenie doesn't get a lot of direction in the lyrics for backstory, thus, in order for the audience to empathize with/ feel sorry for her, they have to relate.
Deininger gives a sinister, smug quality to Burrs that the character needs. His surly command of the stage counters Queenie's grandeur. I did wish that his character could be dialed back, and have more of a progression. The growling nature of his voice in solo songs took away from the performance, and by the end of "What is It About Her", it became grating.
Emily Sergo's performance is quite a lot of fun. Kate is a giant mess, but you have to love watching her, as she commands the party and the attention of all those partaking in it. Sergo, like Deininger, tended to growl as well, which made me wonder if this came from musical direction. Other than that, her voice is a powerhouse. Carl Williams's cool and calm Mr. Black was nice, but leaned towards emotionless, making onstage chemistry with Queenie difficult to believe.
The shining moments of this show appear in the form of the individual numbers. Daniel Douek (Eddie) and Joanna Cross (Mae) were perfectly synced in "Two of a Kind", and Felicia Akunwafor as Madeline True sold "Old Fashioned Love Story" with sheer sass. While she didn't have her own song, Christa Kronser (Nadine) was sweet and naive, and a welcome addition to the background action of the party. Haley North (Jackie) had wonderful dance solos, and made them look fun.
THE WILD PARTY breathes the "roaring 20's", and James Raymond's scenic design exudes this well. The stage, Queenie's and Burrs' apartment, has an art-deco feel, with hints of black, red, and gold. The piano and bar in each corner are used throughout the show, and a small bed sits upstage center. The scenic design did pose problems for the show - the bed had to come down a small ramp not built to properly move it, and its design and small size proved difficult for any actor(s) to work naturally with it. It was one of a few instances where more communication between the production team could have been fruitful.
The costumes, a collaboration between Joanna Cross, Haley North, and the cast, have the right amount of sparkle and sex appeal. While a few pieces weren't necessarily from the right time period, as a collection, it worked. My only note here would be for the actors to consider how their costumes and accessories hold up during the show - Queenie's headband continually fell, causing her to have to adjust it even while singing.
Laurel Mill Playhouse has a very large undertaking in Lippa's THE WILD PARTY, and no one can fault them for what is assuredly a lot of effort, talent, and drive. Even with standout performances and fun moments, this production just needed more communication, time, and space.
THE WILD PARTY performances run on weekends through May 17th. For more information, visit the Laurel Mill Playhouse website.