In the spring of 2000, New York theatergoers had the opportunity to see two brand new musicals based on the Joseph Moncure March poem The Wild Party. Theater aficionados fervently judged the merits of each adaptation and argued which one, the Broadway incarnation by Michael John LaChiusa or the Off-Broadway show by Andrew Lippa, they felt was better. However, in the end, both shows offered much to admire through very different approaches to the source material, but neither turned out to be a commercial success. In one of the first productions since playing at the Manhattan Theater Club, Lippa's The Wild Party receives a riveting mounting as the first Mainstage Series production of 2003 by the University of Cincinnati College - Conservatory of Music (CCM) musical theater program.
The infectious score by Andrew Lippa has a contemporary feel (as opposed to the more period jazz flavor of the other adaptation) and offers energetic character numbers, impassioned ballads, and comical charm songs. The wonderfully melodic and theatrical tunes are matched by uniformly witty and well-crafted lyrics. Songs such as "Raise The Roof," "Poor Child," "An Old-Fashioned Love Story," "A Wild, Wild Party," "The Life of the Party," "What Is It About Her?," and "Make Me Happy" are not easily forgotten and are excellent examples of Mr. Lippa's talent. Musical Director Greg Anthony capably leads a talented eleven-piece orchestra for this production.
The book for The Wild Party is also by Andrew Lippa. He wisely focuses the story on the two main couples, and produces fully realized characters that are realistically flawed and conflicted. The book could use clarification in a few spots, and some of the humorous numbers seem misplaced or too presentational in style. However, Mr. Lippa also infuses an overriding tone that suggests the potential for more violence and conflict that creates an overall effect of sustained dramatic tension that is matched by very few musicals.
CCM produces highly skilled and trained performers, and many of their best are on display in The Wild Party. Angel Reda shines in the leading role of Queenie. Her richly powerful singing and flawless dancing are equaled by a three-dimensional portrayal. Both the hardened exterior and awakened vulnerability of the role are effectively captured by Ms. Reda's performance. As the sadistic Burrs, Eric Daniel Santagata likewise provides amazing vocals. Mr. Santagata manages to show the crazed possessiveness of the beastly lover while also exploring the passionate depths of his love for Queenie. Kearran Giovanni is an appropriately free-spirited, pathetic, and manipulative Kate and an impressive singer/dancer. As Black, J. Michael Kinsey sings soulfully and is poised, caring, and suave. However, he lacks sufficient charisma to make the sexual chemistry between Black and Queenie fully credible.
Supplying fine performances as the other guests are Lindsay Pier (Madelaine True), Josh Dazel (Eddie), Melissa Bohon (Mae), and Keldon Price (Max), among others.
Director Aubrey Berg does well in building the tension to its final edge-of-your-seat resolution and obviously understands the tone of the piece. Mr. Berg's usual flair for staging sensual and sexual situations is put to appropriate use for The Wild Party with satisfying results. The choreography by Diane Lala is visually interesting and fresh, though some numbers seem overdone and too "staged."
The set design by Mark Halpin is one of the finest ever at CCM. The apartment, which is divided into four sections that are rotated on a revolving stage, is detailed and aptly shows the decadence of the period. The design shows the cramped quarters of the lovers and is incredibly effective in communicating the right atmosphere for the show. The costumes by Dean Mogle are attractive, but seem slightly too upscale in some cases for the situation. The suitable lighting is by Steven C. Mack.
The Wild Party is a mature, intense, and melodic musical, and CCM's production is aided by first-rate leading performances, strong direction, and a stunning scenic design. The musical continues at CCM through March 9, 2002.