BWW Review: THE WILD PARTY: RSVP Now!
The Wild Party
Music and Lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa, Book by Michael John Lachiusa & George C. Wolfe, Based on the poem by Joseph Moncure March; Director/Choreographer, Rachel Bertone; Music Director, Dan Rodriguez; Orchestration by Bruce Coughlin; Set Design, Allison Olivia Choat; Costume Design, Marian Bertone; Lighting Design, John R. Malinowski; Sound Design, Brian McCoy; Stage Manager, Alexandra Shoemaker; Assistant Stage Manager, Amanda Ostrow
CAST (in order of appearance): Katie Anne Clark, Todd Yard, Ricardo D. Holguin, Meredith Gosselin, Janelle Yull, Steven Martin, Allison Russell, Hannah Joy Drake, Davron S. Monroe, Terrell Foster-James, Shana Dirik, Ray O'Hare, Michael Herschberg, Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia, Carla Martinez
Performances through May 1 by Moonbox Productions at Roberts Studio Theatre, Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-933-8600 or www.moonbox.org
A poem by an obscure author, a member of the Lost Generation, is the basis for not one, but two musicals. Telling a gritty story, packed with debauched characters, and set to jazzy, sexy music, The Wild Party is exactly what it says it is, and Moonbox Productions invites you to be a voyeur for the Michael John LaChiusa version of Joseph Moncure March's 1928 risqué narrative poem. Director/choreographer Rachel Bertone and her team of designers do such a spectacular job of immersing us in the post-war Roaring Twenties zeitgeist, you can almost taste the gin, smell the desperation, and feel the heat of the bodies writhing onstage.
Welcome to the steamy, seamy world of Vaudevillians, hookers, druggies, and gigolos, all gathered in the apartment of Queenie (Katie Anne Clark) and Burrs (Todd Yard) for a night of revelry, drinking (Prohibition? What's that?), snorting, and sex with a proper or improper stranger. Invitees include musicians, old friends, old foes, and a couple of newcomers who will add a few twists to the evening. Black, white, gay, straight, married or un, it makes no difference once this party gets going, reflecting the boundary-crossing in New York during the 1920s. The hosts are married to each other, but they both let loose at the party and, to say the least, trouble ensues. For everyone involved, the highs are incredibly high (read: manic) and the lows are in the category of the worst hangover you can imagine.
The Wild Party is primarily sung through and set to LaChiusa's brilliant, eclectic score, magnificently realized by Music Director Dan Rodriguez and eight musicians in a loft above the stage. Bertone's choreography ranges from a group of chorines and Queenie performing in front of the footlights, to the hot ensemble dance called the "Black Bottom," and jazzy slithering, for lack of a better term. However, perhaps more impressive than her work for the dance numbers, Bertone masterfully stages each character's movements in every scene, even when they are not directly involved in the moment. It is sometimes hard to know where to look so as not to miss anything and to the actors' credit, everyone is fully engaged at all times.
With fifteen cast members, this is an ambitious undertaking for a small company such as Moonbox, but Bertone has it all in hand. The entire ensemble is really good and jells seamlessly. A couple of standouts for me are Carla Martinez (Queenie's friend Kate), Ricardo D. Holguin (Jackie), Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia (Black), and Shana Dirik (Dolores Montoya). Martinez is a triple threat, managing to look adorable and sexy at once; Holguin captures the high sleaze factor of his character and has a voice reminiscent of Sam Harris; Mancinas-Garcia personifies smooth and debonair, while hurt and need bubble up inside him; and although Dolores is a role smack in the middle of Dirik's wheelhouse, that in no way diminishes what she is able to do with it. She can say as much by a raised eyebrow as others may need many lines of dialogue to express, has great comic timing, and she kills the 11 o'clock number.
Also contributing greatly to this wild ride are Meredith Gosselin (Miss Madelaine True), so head-over-heels in love with her zombified girlfriend Sally, played to perfection by Janelle Yull; the beautiful vocals of Davron S. Monroe and Terrell Foster-James as the Brothers D'Armano; Steven Martin's nuanced portrayal of the African American boxer Eddie and Allison Russell as his wife Mae; the starstruck young Nadine (Hannah Joy Drake) who experiences more than she might have wished for, and not all of it good; and Ray O'Hare (Gold) and Michael Hirschberg (Goldberg) as a nebbishy pair of producers who get in over their heads in this crowd.
Yard steps into big shoes to play Burrs, the original Broadway production and cast recording having featured Mandy Patinkin. However, he gets inside the skin of this complicated man and makes him sympathetic, despite his brutish nature and the fact that we see him perform in blackface, a jarring sight, to be sure. Yard sings beautifully, as well, and hits on all cylinders in Burrs' big numbers ("Wouldn't It Be Nice?" and "How Many Women in the World?"). He and Clark are the cornerstones who bear the weight of the show on their talented shoulders. Her Queenie is brassy and poignant, and she displays her considerable dance skills. With the wealth of crazy-good talent around her, it makes it tough for Clark to stand above the crowd, but she makes Queenie her own.
Bertone's vision for the show is conveyed by Allison Olivia Choat's gritty set design, moody lighting by John R. Malinowski, and Marian Bertone's outstanding range of costume designs. My only complaint is the sound mix as the music overwhelms the lyrics at times (note to designer Brian McCoy). Kudos to Bruce Coughlin for his orchestration and stage violence designer J.T. Turner. The look and sounds of The Wild Party draw the audience into the world of the play, adding us to the guest list. Enjoy it while you can, because no party lasts forever.