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Boston Area Gets Wild and Crazy

"The Wild Party"

Book, music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa; based on the poem by Joseph Moncure March; direction and musical staging by Rick Lombardo; music direction by Todd C. Gordon; choreography by Kelli Edwards; scenic design by Janie E. Howland; costume design by Frances Nelson McSherry; lighting design by Franklin Meissner, Jr.; sound design by Rick Lombardo

Cast in alphabetical order:

Betsy Adkins, ensemble
Ken Arpino, ensemble
Leigh Barrett, Madelaine True
Sarah Corey, Kate
David Costa, Max
Brian De Lorenzo, Phil
Michele A. DeLuca, Dolores
Aimee Doherty, ensemble, u/s Queenie
Paul Giragos, Oscar
Todd Alan Johnson, Burrs
Perri Lauren, Nadine
Andy McLeavey, Sam
Marla Mindelle, Queenie
Jake Mosser, Eddie
Maurice E. Parent, Black
Ilyse Robbins, Mae
Jeremy Amasa Towle, Jackie

Performances: Now through May 20, New Repertory Theatre, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, Mass.
Box Office: 617-923-8487 or www.newrep.org

Queenie may have been a blonde, but for press opening of the New Rep's superb production of "The Wild Party" a week or so ago, she was also an understudy. In the spunky show-must-go-on tradition of Shirley MacLaine, who stepped into the shoes of Carol Haney in "The Pajama Game" in 1954 and became an overnight sensation, Boston favorite Aimee Doherty has raised the roof in her own star turn as the tragic romantic heroine of Andrew Lippa's sizzling musical adaptation of Joseph Moncure March's epic Jazz Age love poem of the same name.

When March's "The Wild Party" was first published in 1928, it was promptly banned in Boston because of its sexually graphic, darkly seductive and explicitly violent content. Now Boston is getting a chance to see what this biting morality tale is really all about in a scintillating musical that is relentlessly entertaining. Lippa's version weaves the original's clever cautionary message about boozing, brawling, and debauchery within the context of a more romanticized central love triangle. He balances outrageously decadent  production numbers with surprisingly tender solos and duets. He gives hearts to the libertines whose credo of the day is "no limits, no boundaries."

Queenie (the lovely, vulnerable and dangerous Aimee Doherty) is a vaudeville singer/dancer whose live-in lover Burrs the Clown (a dark, morose, and frighteningly obsessed Todd Alan Johnson) is anything but funny. He mentally and physically abuses her to the point where she decides to get revenge by throwing a wild party during which she intends to throw herself at the most attractive and convenient male (or female) guest she can find. Her innocent dupe turns out to be a man called Black (the gently civil, kind and empathetic Maurice E. Parent). Problem is, he's a nice guy who wants to protect her, and they inconveniently end up falling in love. In true Greek tragic style, their efforts to escape the meaningless hedonism of the day result in unintentional violence which prevents them from ever fulfilling their romantic dreams.

Peppered throughout "The Wild Party" are jazzy, bluesy, moody, sweltering and comic songs that reveal the inner struggles of the main characters and propel the story to its inevitable melodramatic, yet poignant, end. Highlights among the 30 imaginative and spellbinding songs are Aimee Doherty's powerhouse "Raise the Roof" and painfully ironic "Maybe I Like It This Way," Maurice E. Parent's sweetly chivalrous "Poor Child" and "I'll Be Here," and the company's rollicking "A Wild, Wild Party" led by Doherty and Todd Alan Johnson.

The supporting cast, obscenely talented and bursting with energy, also delivers the goods. As Queenie's freewheeling sidekick Kate, Sarah Corey slithers across the stage with her Act II opener, "The Life of the Party." Jake Mosser as the punch drunk boxer Eddie and Ilyse Robbins as his love struck kewpie Mae mix it up in the delightful vaudeville romp, "Two of a Kind." The ensemble turns up the heat time and again with fabulous dance numbers like the steamy "By Now the Room Was Moving" in which choreographer Kelli Edwards approaches the likes of Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, and Kathleen Marshall. Finally, there is the ridiculously versatile Leigh Barrett as the lusting and literary lesbian Madelaine True who brings the house down with her belting and hilarious rendition of the show-stopping "An Old-Fashioned Love Story."

Lighting by Franklin Meissner, Jr. goes from intimate spots to smoky blues to blood reds and almost imperceptibly defines the shifting locales of Janie E. Howland's mercurial set. Scenes flow easily between a vaudeville house and various rooms in a New York City apartment, with a fire-escaped and brick-walled exterior doubling as noir-ish backdrops for both. Frances Nelson McSherry's period costumes go from sultry to swank, including leg-baring and body-hugging flapper dressers that end up being removed piece by piece as the night wears on. Rick Lombardo's spirited and evocative direction and Todd C. Gordon's fluid musical transitions keep "The Wild Party" moving at just the right pace, bustling along like the ensemble's big number "The Juggernaut" when the party is in full swing but then turning quiet and pensive when the book and score become more introspective and romantic.

As its second year in its luxurious new home at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown comes to a close, the New Rep should be applauded for consistently bringing Boston audiences new work that is never tentative. Indicative of its entire season, "The Wild Party" is a wild success.

PHOTOS

Marla Mindelle as Queenie with ensemble
Todd Alan Johnson as Burrs
Jake Mosser as Eddie and Ilyse Robbins as Mae

"Crazy for You"

Music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin; book by Ken Ludwig; co-conception by Ken Ludwig and Mike Okrent; inspired by material by Guy Bolton and John McGowan; directed and choreographed by Richard Stafford; musical director, Edward Reichert; scenic design by Campbell Baird; sound design by John A. Stone; original costume design by William Ivey Long; additional costume design by Joanna E. Murphy; associate director/choreographer, Jonathan Stahl; lighting design by John McKernon; wig and hair design by Gerard Kelly

Cast in order of appearance:

Tess, Kristen Beth Williams
Patsy, Amanda Paulson
Bobby Child, Jeffry Denman
Bela Zangler, David Coffee
Sheila, Bree Branker
Mitzi, Karen Hyland
Louise, Amy Ling
Margie, Amber Owens
Vera, Megan Hart Jimenez
Betsy, Ami Price
Irene Roth, Lyn Philistine
Mother, Maureen Brennan
Perkins, Gordon Baird
Moose, Jayson Elliott
Mingo, Vincent Rodriguez III
Sam, Shua Potter
Everett Baker, John O'Creagh
Polly Baker, Amanda Watkins
Pete, Leejato Amara Robinson
Jimmy, Patrick O'Neill
Wyatt, Brian Spitulnik
Junior, Gavin Lodge
Custus, Jonathan Stahl
Lank Hawkins, Dan Amboyer
Eugene Fodor, Gordon Baird
Patricia Fodor, Tory Ross

Performances: End May 13. Next up, "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," May 29-June 11, North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Rd., Beverly, Mass.
Box Office: 978-232-7200 or www.nsmt.org

If "The Wild Party" is the yin of musical theater romance, then "Crazy for You" at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly is the yang. This classic boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl lollipop is so unapologetically sweet that it is guaranteed to give your brain a sugar rush.

But that's exactly the intention of this good-hearted and fast-paced valentine to the days when Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Gene Kelly glided and tapped their ways across the screen to songs like "Someone to Watch Over Me," "I Got Rhythm," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," and "Embraceable You." All these wonderful George and Ira Gershwin tunes and more are wrapped in a beautifully crafted, madcap confection of a book by Ken Ludwig that makes this 1992 Tony Winner for Best Musical seem like it was actually an original musical written in a much beloved bygone era.

At the heart of the story is the boy, Bobby Child, a poor little rich kid from New York  who would rather dance upon the wicked stage than work in his mother's evil old bank, and Polly Baker, the pert and feisty Deadrock, Nevada only-gal-in-town whose bankrupt theater Bobby has come to foreclose. Before he serves papers and reveals his true identity, however, the two – of course – fall in love. A few songs and dances later, she discovers his real name, runs him out of town, and laments her misfortune in both business and love. But wait! Bobby returns in disguise, as the famous producer Bela Zangler, and by golly, he's going to help Polly put on a theater-saving show. After several entirely predictable plot twists that include a villainous saloon keeper, a bevy of chorus girls, two British travel writers, and a town full of single men who just happen to sing really well, "Crazy for You" ends with everyone living happily ever after.

The beauty of this winning pre-cursor to the dreaded juke box musical is how well Ludwig fits the Gershwin repertoire into his delightful book and how comically yet affectionately he mocks the genre he so unabashedly embraces. The only thing missing from his clever vaudeville-style jokes are the rim shots to punctuate them. And then, of course, there are the songs – 19 of them – including "Shall We Dance?" "Slap That Bass," "The Real American Folk Song," "What Causes That?" "But Not for Me," and "Nice Work If You Can Get It."

This North Shore Music Theatre production does every one of those Gershwin songs proud. Its 11-piece orchestra provides blissful accompaniment to the singers and dancers who execute Edward Reichert's music direction and director Richard Stafford's choreography with just the right mix of romantic sincerity and unbridled enthusiasm. Songs are interpreted to suit the elegance of New York in one scene and the laconic drawl of the west in the next. Big production numbers have the company lending extra percussion to their taps by dancing with chairs, tin pans, washboards and spoons. The boys and girls also dance on top of an assortment of set pieces, adding visual interest to routines that could otherwise be limited by North Shore's theater-in-the-round stage.

As Bobby Jeffry Denman is a dapper and appealing song and dance man reminiscent of both Astaire and Kelly in his grace and athleticism. Amanda Watkins as Polly is a tough-on-the-outside-tender-on-the-inside delight as she gently reveals through beautifully rendered song the feminine romantic underneath the frontier feminist. Dan Amboyer as the wild and wooly saloon keeper Lank Hawkins and Lyn Philistine as the no-nonsense society dame Irene Roth who tames him throw sparks before, during and after their fate is sealed. And North Shore favorite David Coffee once again nearly steals the show as his real Bela Zangler pairs up with Denman's fake Zangler in a drunken synchronized burlesque that is a marvel of comic and choreographic timing.

Suggestive set pieces, including a 1930s-style automobile, move in and out and up and down fluidly as part of the action, and lighting is bright and bouncy for the rootin' tootin'  production numbers but soft and dreamy for the romantic solos and duets. The show itself is so good and the pace so snappy that the gorgeous costumes almost get overlooked. It's not until the plot takes us back to a street outside a theater in New York that we appreciate the elegance of the period evening wear adorning the debutantes and dandies.

"Crazy for You" is a lighthearted romp that lets you check your worries at the door. It's two hours of lovable fun that by the end will have you singing, "I Can't Be Bothered Now."

PHOTOS

Jeffry Denman as Bobby and Amanda Watkins as Polly
Tory Ross as Patricia Fodor and Dan Amboyer as Lank Hawkins
David Coffee as Bela Zangler and Jeffry Denman as Bobby as Bela Zangler

 


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From This Author Jan Nargi