BWW Review: Aeon Life Theatre's WILD PARTY is a Wild Ride at The Italian Club
Before I can even speak about the fantastic voices in Aeon Life Theater's production of Andrew Lippa's Wild Party, I have to talk about the phenomenal choreography. Actor Doug Buffaloe did double duty as the character Black and the production choreographer. To say that the dancing and acrobatic routines were spectacular to watch, in perfect sync, is barely touching how Broadway-worthy those numbers were. I was wiped out, just watching the cast effortlessly leap from dance to dance. I started noting my favorites on my phone's notepad but stopped because I realized I was highlighting them all. And the fight scene orchestrated by Dax Glavan was like a beautiful, albeit painful, ballet in and of itself. Erik Troche (Jackie) was mesmerizing in "Jackie's Last Dance."
Expertly directed by Tammy Modica, the musical is loosely based on a poem from 1928 about a couple who host a party. The description doesn't sound terribly appealing, does it? But this party was not your average dinner party. Often the cast interacted with the VIP audience members and the bartender, making us feel like we were all attending this party. While the guests wore their most elegant attire (superbly dressed by costume designer Rachael Dugas-Murray), this soiree degenerated into debauchery with sex, infidelity, a snort of cocaine, and a gun.
The first act was good; the second even better.
Queenie was the party hostess, an adventure-craving blonde bombshell mistreated by the lover she clung to. Queenie concocted a plan to get her revenge at her party. From the bob haircut to the shimmery dress, Megan LeClair looked like she stepped out of "The Flapper Magazine." But beauty could only go so far; Megan was a triple threat - an exceptional actress, dancer, and singer. I especially enjoyed "Raise the Roof" and "Who Is This Man."
Her abusive lover, Burrs, ironically, a clown, was played to perfection by Devan Kelty (who displayed impressive juggling skills). I've seen Devan in other roles, but this was his strongest to date. When he grabbed the wrists of Queenie, I was truly frightened where this powerplay would lead... and it led where I did not expect. His intensity was terrifying. Devan knocked it out of the park every time he sang, and his dance and fight skills were flawless. His collapse in "Let Me Drown" was one of my highlighted moments in the show.
Mix in Queenie's frienemy Kate, a reformed prostitute (Brianna Burgess) and her date Black (Doug Buffaloe), and the night suddenly took a turn. Kate was hot for Burrs; Black was captivated by Queenie. A partner switch and betrayal followed with deadly consequences for someone at the party.
Brianna's performance of "The Life of the Party" showcased her acting chops and powerhouse vocal range. The very last note was met with well-deserved, thunderous applause. She was a joy to watch. Doug's heartfelt "I'll Be Here" was the most touching moment in the production, and when he sang "Tell Me Something," the heat from the performance melted the audience. Both Brianna and Doug commanded the stage.
Speaking of commanding, as Madelaine, Bailey DeVoe was one he** of a belter in "An Old-Fashioned Love Story." Bailey, as the single lesbian with a roving eye, was the comedy relief in the otherwise somber tale. No one could argue that that woman didn't have the pipes. She didn't need a microphone for this impeccable performance.
Another playful performance was "Two of a Kind," sung by prize-fighter Eddie and ditzy Mae, played by Doug Clark and Rachael Dugas-Murray. The talented couple had genuine chemistry, and their natural rhythm made entertaining us easy.
And kept R-rated versus XXX by intimacy director Sarah Lozoff, the provocative group sex scene conveyed through dance was done in such a way that didn't feel sleazy, instead thought-out, and precisely executed.
Rounding out this gorgeous, top-notch cast of colorful characters was Max (Dwuany Cannon, Jr, who could sing names in the phone book and I'd listen), Dolores (Delaney Neville), Nadine (Zoe Donofrio) Oscar D'Armano (Dylan Fidler), Phil D'Armano (Nick Cooper), and the "Gang" Becky Clark, Amanda Griffith, Brittany Canessa, and Christina Morisi. Each gifted performer in the intense production had strong vocals and dance skills that would leave me with a chiropractor on speed-dial.
The live music was the perfect touch. Tucked in the back corner of the theatre, helmed by music director and sound designer, Joseph Canessa, musicians Arnel Senson, Todd DuPriest, Chuck Hill, Jay Meder, Amy Carrasco, Mike Mason Jones, Neelya Eiram, Liza Wobensmith, Fez Quixtan, Luis Quixtan, and Art Stoutenburg added an authentic feeling of the roaring 20s. My only quibble is with how loud the music was. Frequently, I could not understand the words the actors were singing, but I got the gist of the story. But that's an easy fix.
Wild Party was a breathless wild ride with a stellar cast, gorgeous lighting, and a beautiful set. Tammy knew exactly how to throw a killer party, so you wouldn't want to miss this opportunity through October 20, especially in the historically-appropriate location in Ybor City, The Italian Club.