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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

The Wild Party at Seattle Center Theatre Wakes Up
the Sleepy Summer


Allison Standley and Jesse Smith
I knew not what laughter, tears, electricity, chemistry and cohesion awaited inside the doors of Seattle Center Theatre at Sound Theatre's production of Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party, but I exited having witnessed what (along with the still-in-development Stu for Silverton at Intiman) was clearly a highpoint of not just the sleepy summer but the whole 2013 calendar year theatre season in Seattle. Lippa's version of the legendary Joseph Moncure March poem was Off-Broadway in the 1999-2000 season, starring the talented likes of Brian d'Arcy James, Idina Menzel, and Taye Diggs alongside a Broadway version by Michael John LaChiusa featuring high-wattage names like Mandy Patinkin and Eartha Kitt, but I think the Lippa version has seen more post-NYC stagings and won more critical favor. In the hands of gifted Director Corey R. McDaniel, with earthily electric, Jack Cole/Bob Fosse flavored choreography by Jessica Low, and solid musical direction by Carol Petrillo, The Wild Party is one you wish didn't have to end.

Paring down the character parade from the March poem, Lippa wisely focuses on some of the most fascinating and tragically fated of them. The hosts are a pair of vaudevillians, showgirl Queenie and Burrs, a clown with a surly, violent side. Having tired a bit of their long and tumultuous romance, Queenie conspires to rattle Burr's cage by hosting the title event, inviting a motley crew which takes in a prizefighter named Eddie and his wife Mae; the flamboyant and incestuous D'Armano brothers; Sam Himmelstein, a theater producer; Dolores, a hooker, and her lesbian madam, Madeleine True; and a mute dancer, Jackie. The drama at the party rises up a few notches with the sizzling arrival of Kate, Queenie's sluttish rival, and her date, the handsome and strapping Mr. Black. While Kate flirts relatively unsuccessfully with Burrs, Black, struck by Burr's obvious cruel streak and roughing up of Queenie, starts up a flirtation with his hostess. As the mix of drugs, jazz, booze and sex take their toll, the party goes from relatively light-hearted to an unsurprisingly tragic outcome in the wee small hours of the morning. All of this would be for naught if we didn't care about these characters and, while they are admittedly not designed to engender our sympathies, director McDaniel and an ace cast make sure they get under our skin.

As the sultry, scheming yet ultimately vulnerable Queenie, Tori Spero makes a strong leading lady bid, with a well shaded and varied performance, sleek moves and vibrant vocals, at her most impressive leading the ensemble in "Raise the Roof" and especially in two solos, "Maybe I Like it This Way" and "How Did We Come to This?." Troy Wageman is a hulking, but somehow hapless figure as Burrs, and the actor gives a titanic acting/singing performance as the troubled clown. His act two feature "Let Me Drown" is a stunning musical nervous breakdown a la "Rose's Turn" or "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," and Wageman doesn't stint in letting out all the raw emotion necessary. Allison Standley as Kate literally knocked my socks off from entrance to exit, with the kind of star power and triple threat talent that provokes glowing comparisons to the likes of a young Chita Rivera. Her big number is "The Life of the Party," the score's best known number out of context, and in context Standley socks it across. Although there is plenty of life in this wild party, the actress is the indisputable MVP of the production. As Black, newcomer Jesse Smith offers sexy, smooth vocals and brings amazing ease and gentility to the tales most enigmatic and sympathetic character.

Beyond the two key couples, other cast members add spark to this incendiary staging. As the love-starved lesbian Madelaine, Leslie Wisdom runs away with the show's comic spotlight with her perfectly pitched solo gem "An Old Fashioned Love Story," while De Sean Halley as volatile pugilist Eddie and McKenna Turner as his wife Mae also add to the lighter side of the show with their engaging duet "Two of a Kind." Bo Mellinger and Michael Sgambati as Phil and Oscar D'Armano are boldly effective, making these salacious siblings affected stereotypical twenties Nancy boys, and they vibrantly lead the act one centerpiece number "A Wild, Wild Party" with suitably frenetic gay abandon. In a late moment in act two, the talented Zandi Carlson as near speechless Jackie (her tongue was cut out) is hypnotic in her "Jackie's Last Dance" solo. The entire company shows off its ensemble wizardry during dance numbers like a heart-racer called "The Juggernaut" and in the big group orgy moments.

A strong case for a lighting and scenic design being done by the same individual can be made by the outstanding contributions to both by designer Richard Schaefer. The challenger Center Theatre space has seldom been as well served by a theatrical scenic design, and the lighting is a nourish triumph. Costumer Candace Frank captures the whole palette of seedy, sexy, spangly, stylish late twenties gowns, suits and boudoir wear. Musical director Carl Petrillo made much of three musicians and balance between them and the cast, who are afforded more support from Joshua Blaisdell's largely successful sound design than I have experienced at many of the larger Equity houses in town.

Sound Theatre Company has spared no expense in giving Seattle The Wild Party it deserved. A young company with such dedication and vision deserves our support and encouragement going forward. I urge you to see this show during its handful of remaining performances this coming week.

The Wild Partyruns through August 25, 2013, at the Seattle Center Armory. For tickets or information visit them online at www.soundtheatrecompany.org.


Photo: Ken Holmes



- David Edward Hughes



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