note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Beverly Creasey
SpeakEasy Stage does it again, bringing us the shows we heard all about but didn't get down to New York to see. They're currently heating up the BCA with Michael John LaChiusa and George Wolfe's "The Wild Party" --- not to be confused with the Andrew Lippa musical, also based on the Joseph Moncaro March "banned in Boston" poem..
The greasy, worn vaudeville curtain over the stage says it all in Susan Zeeman Rogers' marvellously tacky set. The folks at this party are desperate, worn out, and in need of a fix. The subject of March's gritty poem is Queenie, a dancer in the "sexually ambitious" vaudeville. She's the quintessential blonde bombshell of the roaring twenties, of whom March said originally "Everyone wants to be a blonde or do one."
LaChiusa's score can capture the froth of a Fats Waller tune ("Uptown") or mimic Sondheim at his darkest ("How Many Women in The World"). Sometimes LaChiusa even sounds like Kurt Weill ("People Like Us"). "The Wild Party" is full of decadence, double entendre, and cheeky lines like "If a man is the answer , then I'm asking all the wrong questions."
Director Andrew Volkoff's intense production is chock full of dazzling performances. Chief among them is Maureen Keiller as the bitter, ageing star a la Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard". (Maybe SpeakEasy should tackle that musical with Keillor on the lead!) Her "When It Ends" and "Moving Uptown" both stop the show.
Kent French, too, has a breathtaking song: "Breezin' Through Another Day". Bridget Bierne is a voluptuous Queenie and Christopher Chew delivers a searing "Wouldn't It Be Nice" as he taunts the crowd --- to mask his own heartbreak. Merle Perkins is all sexual heat and cold ice as a scheming leading lady, and Phillip Woods delivers the punch as a disappointed boxer. Bree Greig will give you chills as a willing sacrificial ingenue.
"The Wild Party" is definitely not your usual uplifting musical. (Nor is it wittily sardonic like "Sweeney Todd".) it's just relentlessly sardonic --- an unflinching look at the not-so-jaunty jazz age. If only LaChiusa and Wolfe would do a Noel Coward "Party"! For one, I would love to see "a young Bobby Carr do a stint at the bar ... with a lot of extraordinary men!"