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BWW Review: Syracuse University Department of Drama Presents an Intoxicating Production of THE WILD PARTY

BWW Review: Syracuse University Department of Drama Presents an Intoxicating Production of THE WILD PARTY
The company of the Syracuse University Drama Department's production of The Wild Party. Photo by Michael Davis.

The music, the lyrics, the story, and the characters - every element of Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party is very intense and intriguing. This production, presented by the Syracuse University Department of Drama at Syracuse Stage, doesn't hold back either. Set in the Jazz Age of the Roaring '20s, this production features a stellar cast, impressive set and lighting design by Alex Koziara, and meticulously detailed direction by Katherine McGerr. The spot-on choreography by Andrea Leigh-Smith and the powerhouse performances of the entire cast take center stage in this wild performance of Lippa's The Wild Party.

The musical is based on the 1929 poem of the same name by Joseph Moncure March that follows a beautiful blonde Vaudeville dancer Queenie (Giuliana Augello) and a vaudeville clown named Burrs (Ryan Byrne) and their fiery relationship. The two seem destined to be together. Queenie tries to find a lover that can satisfy her deepest desires and Burrs is that guy. Burrs is everything Queenie believes she needs. He is wild and intense. The two have found their perfect match both emotionally and sexually, but Burrs' violent and rough nature - and his general emotional instability - begins to scare Queenie after some time.

Queenie, still yearning for what she and Burrs had, believes that hosting a party in their apartment is just the thing they need to light that fire again. The two, excited for this good time, invite an eclectic group of friends to join in on the wild festivities that include alcohol, drugs, and a myriad of sexual encounters. With all this fun there is bound to be danger - especially when Burrs is involved. Add a surprise guest named Mr. Black (Blake Maxwell) and you have an unexpected love triangle.

The artistic elements of the production prove to be a highlight. Carmen Martinez's costume designs, along with Sarah Stark's makeup and wig design, dazzle in the dance numbers. They are time period-appropriate, and define each individual character. Alex Koziara's lighting highlights the intense emotions and his set design is not only showstopping, but also allows the show to flow effortlessly. Alec Barbour's fight choreography is also impressive.

The drinks are flowing, the party is nonstop fun, and the talent that is showcased in this production is astonishing. What is there not to love about Lippa's jazzy and seductive music and lyrics especially when delivered by Syracuse University Drama students who bring it all to the production? They are backed by a captivating onstage orchestra, directed by the talented Brian Cimmet. The power, the intensity, the professionalism of these students and musicians make for an unmissable show.

Giuliana Augello is confident, emotional, and powerful as the flawless blonde Queenie. The vocally demanding role allows Augello's to show off her feisty onstage personality and tremendous vocal ability. She flaunts perfectly in the opening number "Queenie was a Blonde." Then she closes the show with the chilling performance of "How Did We Come to This?" along with the rest of the ensemble. Frankly it is hard to choose which number of hers stood out the most because this delicious role features so many that steal the spotlight. Thanks to her emotion, seductive nature, storytelling abilities, and comedic charm, she dazzles the audience with "Raise the Roof," "Out of the Blue," "Who is This Man?," and "Maybe I Like it this Way," just to name a few. Augello made the role her own which was what made her a true standout performer.

At least at the performance I attended, Ryan Byrne grew into the role of Burrs as the show went on. His vocals from the start were top notch from the start, but his portrayal of this complicated and emotional character took some time to grow on. By the end of Act I, Byrne embodied the character. His rendition of "What is it About Her?" was absolutely chilling. By Act II Byrne's vocals, acting, and intense energy often stole the spotlight, including in numbers such as "Let Me Drown" and "Make Me Happy" as Burrs violent nature reaches its climax.

Blake Maxwell delivers a powerful, charming, and seductive performance as Mr. Black. Maxwell's solo moments in "Poor Child" are truly breathtaking. This number (which also features Augello, Byrne, and Anju Cloud as Kate) was a favorite of mine largely because of everyone's stunning vocals. Maxwell's glorious vocals soar throughout the show and his chemistry with Augello is perfection. "I'll be Here" showcases Maxwell's emotionally powerful vocals as well.

Anju Cloud, with her aggressive energy, confidence, and Broadway belt, lit up the stage as the troublemaker Kate - a true party girl and semi-reformed hooker that longs to have Burrs be her lover. Cloud's brought down the house in numbers such as "Look at Me Now" and "Life of the Party." Cloud's vocal power and range make her a highlight of this production.

The rest of the ensemble also deliver stellar performances, portraying a unique group of partygoers. Their vocals, dancing, and intense acting make the show even more entertaining. Jaelle LaGuerre as Madeline True, the lesbian at the party, entertains with the comedic number "An Old-Fashioned Love Story." Joshua Keen as Jackie "sweet dancer" steals the show with his breathtaking tap skills and graceful dance solo. Sage Prosper Cobos, as Eddie "the pugilist," and Kate Jarecki, as Mae "a looker," charm in the fun and adorable number "Two of a Kind" which showcases their impressive onstage chemistry. Camille Theriault delivers an expressive and memorable performance as "the minor" Nadine. Hayden Kerzie and Jack Rento as Phil and Oscar D'Armano, respectively, entertain as the two young composers sharing their musical number "A Wild, Wild Party," one of my favorite numbers.

Andrea Leigh- Smith's intricate choreography for "The Juggernaut," "Raise the Roof," "Let Me Drown," and "Come With Me," just to name a few is showcased very well by the talented ensemble cast.

Syracuse University Department of Drama does not hold anything back with this production, transporting us to the Roaring '20s - complete with sex, addiction, partying and more. The powerhouse vocals, the spot-on choreography, and the intense acting make The Wild Party a must see.

Running time: Approximately two hours and twenty minutes with one fifteen-minute intermission.

The Syracuse University Department of Drama production of The Wild Party runs through April 7, 2019 at the Storch Theater in the Syracuse Stage/ Drama Complex at 820 East Genesee Street, Syracuse, New York 13210. For tickets and information on this production and upcoming productions presented by the Syracuse University Department of Drama at Syracuse Stage, click here. For information on the Drama Department at Syracuse University, click here. For Mainstage Production information at Syracuse Stage, click here.

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From This Author Natasha Ashley

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