BWW Review: THE WILD PARTY ~ Banned in Boston (1928), Red Hot In Phoenix (2018)
To be banned in Boston has always been a guarantee of literary success. That was the case for Joseph Moncure March's narrative poem, THE WILD PARTY, about the torrid and fatal affair of two vaudevillians, Queenie the dancer and Burrs the clown. Queenie is a stand-by-your man kind of girl, weathering Burrs' violence, who decides to shake things up with a party of peers. Enter a rainbow of Roaring Twenties archetypes, including a dashing Kate and her escort, Mr. Black, whereupon a whole new chemistry unfolds.
Published in 1928, March's work has endured, gifted with a revival in Art Spiegelman's 1994 illustrated edition, The Lost Classic.
To be sure, THE WILD PARTY is pulp poetry, fortified by its rhythmic beat and rhyming and its lusty content. It is relatively tame fare today but no less juicy in the more successful of its adaptations, the 2000 musical by Andrew Lippa (Big Fish, I Am Harvey Milk, The Addams Family).
A/C Theatre Company, which has been making its mark in local theatre with a series of solid productions of alternative and unconventional works (Murder Ballad, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Gunmetal Blues) has taken Lippa's work off the shelf and breathed life into it with sharply defined performances by Alanna Kalbfleisch (Queenie), Joshua Vern (Burrs), Ayanna Le Andre (Kate), and Shawn Hansen (Black).
Kalbfleisch's Queenie is Jean Harlow-blonde and alluring, restrained in her sexuality only by her ambivalence, vulnerability and desire for a saner relationship. Vern's Burrs epitomizes the insanely jealous fool who deteriorates into a jealously insane predator. Hansen's Mr. Black is the cool and clean antidote to Burrs, a man with caring instincts. Le Andre's Kate is the seductive siren, a lush with a voice that could bring the angels out of their clouds to partake a snort of coke.
If you thought it couldn't get much hotter in Phoenix (low 100's), director Robert Kolby Harper has turned up the heat with this scintillating edition of Lippa's musical, and his cast moves like feral beasts to the music of shadows and decadence (and conductor Steve Hilderbrand's perfectly tuned band). Take, for example, Sonia Rodriguez Wood's standout turn as the voluptuous lesbian, Madeline True, in an erotic rendition of An Old-Fashioned Love Story.
Wild party time is the sum, of booze-soaked reveries, rape and orgy, drugs, fisticuffs, and dancing to The Juggernaut, captured in the sensuous choreography of Katherine "Kat" Bailes, aptly named for the sinuous feline ballet she performs.
THE WILD PARTY: Torrid, decadent, and chaotic. Nothing much redeeming. But, wildly engaging in its delivery is this tribute to the roar of another decade and its edgy underbelly.
THE WILD PARTY runs through September 23rd at Phoenix Theatre's Hardes Theatre.
Poster credit to A/C Theatre Company