BWW Review: THE WILD PARTY Reminds Us That No Party Lasts Forever
THE WILD PARTY is a musical with a book by Michael John LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe and music and lyrics by LaChiusa. Based on the 1928 Joseph Moncure March poem of the same name, the show is about the masks that people wear culturally and the removal of those masks over the course of a party. The 2000 Broadway production was originally presented as a series of vaudeville sketches, with signs at the beginning and the end that announced the next scene with a show card propped on an easel at the side of the stage. In this UT Department of Theatre and Dance production, that device has been abandoned. The piece, in this incarnation, uses a vaudeville straw hat act to bookend the production at open and close. The remainder of the show, for the most part, is the actual party and I found the device to be most effective putting more heart into the piece than the original concept did.
The book-length narrative poem, by Joseph Moncure March, was widely banned in 1928 being viewed as having content that was as wild as the party it described. The poem tells the story of show people Queenie and her lover Burrs (whose decadent lifestyle was depicted by March as being unique to Hollywood), deciding to have one of their parties, complete with illegal bathtub gin, for their colorful and egocentric friends. The musical changes the locale to New York. It was adapted into a poorly received film in 1975, and two stage musicals, both produced in the same 1999-2000 theater season. Michael John LaChiusa's version, directed by George C. Wolfe was mounted on Broadway and the other version, by Andrew Lippa, was off-Broadway.
Queenie (Emma Center) and Burrs (Christopher Montalvo), in an effort to reignite their disintegrating relationship, host a party complete with bathtub gin, cocaine, and uninhibited sexual behavior. The evening devolves into an orgy that culminates in tragedy. The guests include fading star Dolores (Toni Baker); Kate (Tori Robertson), Queenie's best friend and rival; Black (Max Torez), Kate's younger lover, who has his eye on Queenie; Jackie (Connor Barr), a rich, "ambisextrous" kid who has his eye on everyone, regardless of gender or age; Oscar (Nyles Washington) and Phil D'Armano (Cosme Flores, Jr.), a gay brother vaudeville act; lesbian stripper Miss Madelaine (Maddrey Blackwood) and her morphine-addicted girlfriend Sally (Caroline Kinnamore); prizefighter Eddie (Trey Curtis), his wife Mae (Devin Medley) and Mae's fourteen year old sister, Nadine (Emily McIntyre). Thrown into the mix are two Jewish producers, Gold (J. Dylan Gibson) and Goldberg (Tucker Martin), who represent the chance of fame and legitimacy for this band of vaudeville performers.
Set in Manhattan in the Roaring Twenties, THE WILD PARTY is an evening of excess for a collection of the unruly and undone. As artifice and illusion get stripped away the jazz and gin-soaked party builds to a mounting sense of threat and tragedy at dawn.
Containing over forty musical numbers, THE WILD PARTY is more song and dance than book. Director Cara Phipps has done a great job rethinking this piece. The vaudeville elements are all still there, but they are more fully integrated into this production than the original concept was. The result is a mesmerizing look at the excesses and personalities of the Jazz Age. Staged in the round, a tough task to pull off for a musical, this gem of a show glistens like a black diamond.
Natasha Davison has created some beautiful dance numbers that the cast executes with snap, style and precision. E.L. Hohn's costumes are absolutely perfect, right down to the smallest details. The tech for this production was uniformly excellent, from Andrew Carson's lighting and Jared LeClaire's projection designs down to the scenic design of Bruno-Pierre Houle.
The cast of this production is uniformly quite fine; however, there are some standouts worth mentioning. Emma Center as Queenie, Christopher Montalvo as Burrs, Maddrey Blackwood as Miss Madelaine, Emily McIntyre as Nadine and Tori Robertson as Kate all delivered memorable performances. The real standout performance of the evening belongs to Connor Barr as Jackie. Mr. Barr possesses a great stage charisma and is an absolute joy to watch... and he is also a quite gifted dancer. To say that he is perfectly at ease on stage would be an understatement.
Overall, THE WILD PARTY is a polished yet edgy evening of entertainment... dark, sensual and totally captivating.
Running time: One Hour and 50 minutes with no intermission. Viewer discretion is advised. The excess of 1920s America is represented through an exploration of sexuality, violence and graphic racial representation.
THE WILD PARTY, produced by The University of Texas Department of Theatre and Dance, plays The Oscar G. Brockett Theatre (300 E 23rd Street East, Austin, TX, 78712) now thru December 5th. There is no late seating.
November 20, 21, December 1-5 at 7:30pm
November 21, 22, December 5 at 2:00pm.
Tickets are $15.00 - $26.00.