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Review Roundup: Encores! Off-Center's THE WILD PARTY

Review Roundup: Encores! Off-Center's THE WILD PARTY

Led by Tony winner Sutton Foster, Encores! Off-Center's presentation of Andrew Lippa's THE WILD PARTY also features Steven Pasquale (who made his New York stage debut and understudied the role of Burrs in the MTC production of THE WILD PARTY), Ryan Andes, Brandon Victor Dixon, Foster's YOUNGER co-star Miriam Shor,Joaquina Kalukango and Talene Monahon, along with Renée Albulario, Penelope Armstead-Williams, James Brown III, Rachel DeBenedet, Raymond J. Lee, Kenita R. Miller, Sydney Morton, Clifton Oliver, Charlie Pollock, Britton Smith, Ryan Steele and Samantha Sturm.

Directed by Leigh Silverman and choreographed by Sonya Tayeh, THE WILD PARTY opened last night, July 15, at New York City Center. FUN HOME Tony winner Jeanine Tesori is the Artistic Director of Encores! Off-Center and Chris Fenwick is Music Director.

Andrew Lippa's THE WILD PARTY, adapted from the Jazz Age narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March, is the story of one tragic, decadent night in a Manhattan apartment shared by Queenie (Foster) and her menacing lover Burrs (Pasquale). The couple decides to throw the party to end all parties, where Queenie meets a handsome stranger (Dixon) who wants to lure her away.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: For someone who first conquered Broadway as the most wholesome kid on the block, Sutton Foster dirties up real nice....As soon she makes her entrance wearing a platinum-blond wig, a second-skin beaded dress and a been-there, done-that smirk, it is clear that luridness becomes Ms. Foster. But just because she's pretending to be a burnt-out case, don't expect her to surrender the radiant sincerity for which she is celebrated. Her signature big, bright voice and wide-open face are still much in evidence as she shimmies and suffers her way through this 2000 tale of one night in hell in 1920s Manhattan. And she endows a willfully sour show, which has been retooled with her in mind by its creator, with a stinging sweetness it lacked 15 years ago. You could even say that "The Wild Party," which once seemed sweaty without ever feeling warm, has taken on some heat and, more important, a heart.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: You might think that Broadway sweetheart Sutton Foster would be out of place in a roomful of horny, hopped-up swillers and killers. Nope. This two-time Tony winner and "Younger" star fits right in as Queenie, a debauched vaudeville dancer...Foster keeps the eternal sunshine in her singing of a score filled with blues, vaudeville and Broadway belting. What makes her performance intriguing is about acting and attitude. She sets her jaw, narrows her eyes into slits and conjures a jaded woman...Foster's portrait anchors this intermittently interesting but all too predictable musical, drawn from a poem by Joseph Moncure March. The actress's heated chemistry with Brandon Victor Dixon ("Motown: The Musical"), gives the show a racing pulse...Dixon is irresistible. He goes down easy as a warm bath or a cold shot of bathtub gin -- or both at the same time. His laid-back approach leaves you wanting more -- just like Queenie does. Others in the cast could follow his lead. This staging by Leigh Silverman tends to drive so hard it pushes you away.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: Silverman's staging and Sonya Tayeh's choreography lack energy and raunch -- even a slo-mo orgy's too stylized for its own good. But several performances lift the evening: Dixon's silky R&B stylings and Kalukango's Kate, who devours her songs like a woman who hasn't eaten in days and suddenly finds herself at a buffet. And then there's Miriam Shor...As a textbook predatory lesbian, Shor sells her one solo, "An Old-Fashioned Love Story," with panache and slinky humor. Whatever party she goes to, we want to be her plus 1.

Matt Windman, AM New York: Lippa, who has gone on to write "The Addams Family" and "Big Fish" for Broadway, wrote an ambitious and complex score that combines hot jazz with contemporary pop and operatic motifs. It's a lot to take in on a first, or even a second, listen...It tends to veer in and out of focus, and some parts are better than others. The production (directed by Leigh Silverman) is similarly uneven, often more stagnated than wild. Lippa's rewrites for this production are, to say the least, questionable. Pasquale is too handsome and downbeat for Burrs, but Foster is in fine form as a tragically lost Queenie. Miriam Shor briefly steals the show with the hilarious solo "An Old-Fashioned Love Story."

Jesse Green, Vulture: This is not a thrown-together staging on a cheap, borrowed set; it is, somehow, a physically beautiful, thoroughly realized (by director Leigh Silverman), and fully choreographed (by Sonya Tayeh) account of a complicated story...All are jaw-droppingly good...achieving without apparent strain a level of singing that has rarely been achieved in an Encores! production. I don't just mean American Idol-style melismas and wails, though there's plenty of that when appropriate. But the discipline with which the voice is deployed as a medium for establishing character, and the abandon with which it is used as a brute expression of conflict, turn numbers like Kate's "Life of the Party" and Burrs's "Let Me Drown" and the quartet "Poor Child" into reminders of what bravura pastiche writing can call forth in first-class singing actors. I really have nothing to criticize about this production, except perhaps to say that along with A New Brain and Little Shop of Horrors earlier this summer it sets the bar unreasonably high for future Off-Center seasons.

Matthew Murray, Talkin' Broadway: ...Leigh Silverman's production of this 2000 musical doesn't register as loud, fast, or, heaven forefend, "wild" at all. This is a lullaby with a fervent blues streak...Lippa has done himself no favors by instituting some heavily damaging rewrites that unravel the devices he had that worked...Because we don't know who these people are or how they speak, neither they nor the show becomes anything close to real. Try as they might, the Off-Center cast cannot combat this. Though Sutton Foster makes a glittering, statuesque Queenie, it's a foundation-deep portrayal too often absent the despair that should define the woman beneath the makeup. Brandon Victor Dixon is too blank as Black, offering no sense who the man specifically is or what he wants. As Kate, Joaquina Kalukango unlocks a fair amount of comedic misery, but nothing else -- it's a dizzy, daffy performance at odds with everything around her. Only Steven Pasquale finds an appropriate blend: His Burrs is weighty, brutal, and dynamic, though he doesn't quite let us see how these qualities are natural part of his professional clown.

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Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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