note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Beverly Creasey
Joseph Moncure March’s 1928 epic poem about the roaring twenties, called THE WILD PARTY, is the inspiration for not one, but two musicals of the same name. The LaChiusa WILD PARTY played Boston a few seasons ago but the really wild WILD PARTY is the version by Andrew Lippa, now playing (and ripping off the roof) at New Rep through May 20th.
Lippa knows just how to push the envelope and the New Rep production sends his music (The show is almost all sung, except for a few spoken rhyming couplets) into the stratosphere. You won’t find a more intense experience anywhere else this season. The pounding rhythms are relentless and the production numbers are nothing short of outrageous. This vaudeville tone poem is so dark and dangerous that it may remind you of Kurt Weill at his cynical best. The quartets are operatic and the subject matter, like Rogers’ SLAUGHTER ON TENTH AVENUE, celebrates the destructive underbelly of passion.
New Rep has the rep for breathing edgy life into sardonic musicals like THE THREE PENNY OPERA or Sondheim—only this time, it’s Queenie instead of SWEENEY. Queenie (Marla Mindelle) is a drop dead gorgeous, Harlow-esque party girl who likes her men rough. Burrs (Todd Alan Johnson) is the vaudeville clown who can give her just what she wants. You know the story. Someone will come between them and someone will suffer the consequences. Lippa’s daring coup lies in making the musical utterly riveting without making Queenie and Burrs the least bit sympathetic. Johnson’s ‘Mack the Knife’ had a magnetic charm about him but his Burrs is simply grotesque. (Lippa has composed a set of vulnerable inner monologues for each of them but I wasn’t convinced that either wouldn’t murder his own mother for the thrill.)
THE WILD PARTY, with its drunks, addicts and whores, is not a pretty picture of the l920s. What director Rick Lombardo has created with the material is a work of sheer power. You can’t help yourself: You’re in its thrall. Todd Gordon’s musical direction (not to mention his cameo) is without equal. Kelli Edwards’ choreography is part Jerome Robbins (Think Sharks and Jets) and part Twyla Tharp (Think birds of prey swooping in for the kill) and the company handles the dancing like gangbusters.
I could go on and on--- but suffice it to say New Rep has created a force of nature with their WILD production. Leigh Barrett is spectacular as the Lesbian (“She [has the] quality I like: She’s alone.”) Sarah Corey is sexy and sassy as the savvy ex-whore and Maurice E. Parent is heartbreaking as the interloper. Ilyse Robbins and Jake Mosser are touching as the bruised boxer and his protective lady love. Brian DeLorenzo and Paul Giragos are quite amusing as the strange “producers” of the show within the show. Jeremy Amasa Towle gets a nifty solo in his skivvies and bowler hat. (Frances Nelson McSherry’s costumes for everyone are the cat’s meow.)
The set (by Janie E. Howland) is jazzy and chic. The music is astonishing. The performances are larger than life. As Lippa says with one of his songs, it’s a “Juggernaut.”