Nov. 2, 2010
In advertisements for The Wild Party, put on this week by Tympanium Euphorium, a warning reads: “PARENTAL ADVISORY: This show is not suitable for viewers under the age of 16.” Could there be a better way to get college students to go see a musical? And they’re right; This show isn’t really suitable for those under 16. But not for the reasons you’re thinking. While watching the show last Thursday evening, I realized that its themes and ultimate message really relate to the issues college-aged people begin to explore. Casual drugs and casual sex, yes–but on a deeper level, the consequences of whom one chooses to love and make love to (hint: they’re not always the same). Drugs and booze fuel the night of the aforementioned wild party, during which the entire musical takes place. When the night wears on and the cocaine wears off is where the real heart of this musical lives.
Andrew Lippa wrote The Wild Party‘s book, music and lyrics based off of a long-form poem by Joseph Moncure March. The show originally debuted in New York City in 1997, but it is set in 1929, just before the stock market crash that set off the Great Depression. Prohibition has been enacted and jazz is all the rage.
The first aspects of the production I noticed–even before the action really began–were the costumes and set design, created by Jessica Rasp ’13 and Robert Orzalli ’11, respectively. The apartment in which the entire show takes place is complete with a bedroom, bathroom and bar, though no walls separate these different spheres.
A yellow couch dominates the center of the stage. Girls in garters and guys wearing boxers provide a Greek-style chorus for the show’s opening number, titled “Queenie was a Blonde.” This song refers to the female lead, played by Anneke Reich ’13, whose brassy voice seemed made for the character of a sultry nightclub performer. These singers then morph into the party guests, each with his or her own baggage and romantic partner.
Only 13 actors appear in The Wild Party, and all but two remain onstage throughout the entire performance. Though nearly all get to perform their own solos or duets, this cast impressed me most with its ability to act as an ensemble. Even when a scene was tightly focused on a few characters, the rest never stopped being “in character.” The party’s frantic pace is believable because background action is always occurring. Characters have their own full-on interactions without the use of dialogue and often act as a backdrop to the main action of the scene.
I credit the director, Abby Armstong ’13, with this achievement. She manages various story arcs with a chaotic control that suits the tone of the musical just right. It’s a party, after all. Everyone is constantly singing, dancing, drinking, flirting and always, always performing. The characters could have easily become secondary to the sheer debauchery that occurs were it not for Armstrong’s key ability to rein in the fracas. Armstrong said she “worked individually with each actor to create believable characters with their own dark motivations” but said the final product was only possible due to “this unique circumstance where each person gave 110 percent and cared more about the outcome of the show than about getting his or her own time in the spotlight.” Reich agreed, adding, “Not only actors, but the production staff, crew, orchestra members and everyone who worked on the production were extremely dedicated and passionate. The show could not have [been] done without them.”
The show’s dance routines (a mix of burlesque and jazz) choreographed by Kayla Dinces ’12, were another highlight. This was Dinces’ first time choreographing, but she clearly has a knack for it. The singing and dancing doesn’t ever really stop throughout The Wild Party, and even when full-on musical numbers aren’t being performed, individual lines of dialogue are sung and danced to. The choreography kept the show lively and entertaining, as well as reflecting its historical context. Dinces was also able to transition into a more melancholy tone when required, as the show moved into its more compelling second act.
The plot of The Wild Party focuses on the developing love triangle between Queenie, her lover Burrs (Zach Greenberg ’12) and Black (Nick Maletta ’13), a stranger who joins the party and instantly catches Queenie’s eye. For the most part, I found their characterizations believable, though all three seemed to lack the sexual tension so well portrayed by the rest of the cast. The performance that struck me most intensely was Zoey Hart’s ’13. She played the second female lead, Kate, who is Queenie’s prostitute best friend.
Hart looks like a young Helena Bonham Carter who had waded through a lake of liquor the night before. As Kate, who tries desperately to get Burrs to sleep with her throughout the evening, Hart flops and stumbles about the stage, looking woebegone and bedraggled, though undeniably sexy. Her despair at being “the life of the party,” but never attaining true romantic affection, was palpable, and I believe she gave the best performance of the show.
The best song, however, goes to Jason Dick ’14 and Dotan Horowitz ’12, who play (related) lovers Phil and Oscar D’Armano, respectively. The pair ask Queenie and Burrs to perform their latest musical creation, a song titled “A Wild, Wild Party.” Though the entire cast participates in this number, it is the D’Armanos who easily steal the show, camping it up, though not offensively. This number was also the most jubilant and boisterous of an otherwise dark and dangerous production, creating the feeling that we in the audience received an invitation to The Wild Party as well.