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Talkin' Broadway V.J.

The Party's Over
When It Ends

By Christina D'Angelo

WARNING: This article contains superfluous superlatives.

As the curtain rang down on the final performance yesterday of The Wild Party, the cast was greeted by an immediate and unanimous standing ovation from an audience screaming frantically, applauding rapturously. In the finale cast members were clearly distraught; Brooke Sunny Moriber (Nadine) shook with tears streaming down her face, and a lachrymose Toni Collette could barely catch her breath.

Michael John LaChiusa, who was snatched on stage wearing an all-white tennis ensemble (showcasing his muscular legs), bowed boyishly to a thunderclap response. Also brought on stage was director George C. Wolfe who smilingly and not-too-cryptically railed into the show's detractors - mainly New York Times' theatre critic Ben Brantley, who many believe, along with the dearth of Tony awards, helped to nail the show's coffin shut. "A friend of mine has a saying: If you are being run out of town by everyone, you should get in front and pretend that it's a parade." He went further, lifting his voice over the cheering and laughter, and quoted Einstein, "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds." Then, to a deafening response, with the most pointed of his comments he spoke about how art often is ahead of its time and that in the end "Art and theatre are bigger than the (T)imes," punctuating it with "Pun intended."

Some of those standing in the audience for the final matinee were two of LaChiusa's former leading ladies; Audra McDonald (Marie Christine) and Donna Murphy (Hello Again) as well as Andy Dick, Ben Stiller, Brooke Shields, Ron Rifkin, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee.

The performances were particularly electric yesterday, namely Toni Colette who scorched her way though the show with the vibrancy and combustion of a flame thrower. The first half of the show was so charged with moxie that it seemed as if the performers were just short of bursting into laughter at any given moment, practically manic and on. But as their characters fragmented and grew sentient the actors seemed to use the finality of it all in practically every lyric that they uttered. Particularly visceral was Collete's voice crackling with emotion like a vintage phonograph with "And soon we will fade into these walls, into the nothingness. The end." Eartha Kitt's Eleven O'clock number, "When it Ends" never failed to stop the show but this time it was so weighted with poignancy that the lyrics even transcended Kitt's stellar performance whose thunderous ovation lasted a solid three minutes.

There have been many supporters, myself included, who have cherished The Wild Party for its daring, innovation and profundity during its less than two month run and mourn its premature closing. More than likely, The Wild Party will be revered more with the passing of time and when it is revived some 10 or 15 years down the road I feel certain it will reach landmark status like other shows that were ahead of their time. Take Kander and Ebb's Chicago, for example, which was nominated for eleven Tony Awards and walked with nothing, until it was revived and took home a whopping six Tonys. Sondheim, remember him? His Follies lost the Tony for Best Musical in 1972 to Two Gentlemen of Verona -- hmm, remember that?

Generations before us still recount the luminous performances of Merman's Rose, Lansbury's Mame, and Preston's Harold Hill and now we'll be adding a few from The Wild Party: Collette's Queenie, Kitt's Delores and Patinkin's Burrs to our list of unforgettables.

At the risk of turning this article into a deeper shade of lavender, The Wild Party was indeed a brilliant piece of work penned with empathy, honesty and bathed in complex emotions. For those who saw it and got it and for those who've only listened to its haunting score know if nothing else they did not witness a cookie-cutter formulaic paint-by-number piece, but rather a challenging work of fresh genius. All we can do is hold out hope that producers recognize brilliance and take a chance and trust in their heart so that soon we see another LaChiusa, another Brown, another Guettel back on the boards where they belong. In due time they will be recognized for their inventiveness and brilliance. I pray that time is soon.

I agree with what LaChiusa once said to me, "Time is the true critic."


- Christina D'Angelo

(The Wild Party logo and photos, from the recently released CD of the Original Broadway Cast recording on the Decca label.)

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