Thursday, July 16, 2015

Margin Notes: The Wild Party

Brandon Victor Dixon, Steven Pasquale, and Sutton Foster
as Black, Burrs, and Queenie. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Seen on: Wednesday, 7/15/15.
My grade: C+. Not really my show, and the acoustics didn't help.

Plot and Background
Queenie and Burrs, a vaudeville couple on the rocks, throw a raucous party to distract from (or perhaps exacerbate) their quarreling. When Queenie's friend Kate brings the mysterious and attractive Black, Queenie sees a way out - and Kate sees a way in. Filled with a menagerie of personalities and showcase songs, the show is based on Joseph Moncure March's 1928 narrative poem, and was workshopped in 1997 before its Off-Broadway run at Manhattan Theatre Club in 2000 (in a weird bit of theater kismet, another adaptation of the poem, this time by Michael LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe, opened in the same season, but on Broadway). Lippa's version is presented here as part of New York City Center's Encores! Off-Center Series.

What I Knew Beforehand
I knew the strange story of two separate adaptations of The Wild Party running in the same season. I'd heard both cast albums once or twice, and had read the synopsis in the liner notes. I think I probably had a better sense of the Broadway/LaChiusa adaptation than the Off-Broadway/Lippa, going in. I also knew that the issue of which adaptation is superior is a rather divisive one among theater aficionados. Not having seen the LaChiusa adaptation, I'm not ready to weigh in on that debate.


Play: I should start off by saying the acoustics were bad enough that any time the orchestra (or singers) were at full volume, I couldn't understand a word. This was obviously not a problem for some of the audience, either because they could hear fine, or because they already had the show memorized. There were clearly a lot of fans in the audience, as numerous songs were greeted with cheers before they even started. Sound issues aside ... I think this just isn't my show. Surrounded by cheering fans, I all too often felt like I was missing out on something everyone else was experiencing. What I experienced was a collection of generally unlikable characters who weren't giving me a reason to root for them, and a rather depressing conclusion (I get that that's the point, but ... why do I need to see it?). What I could hear of the score was definitely catchy, jazzy and fun, though the lyrics weren't always the most compelling.

(Also - I don't typically address design with the Encores! shows, but I want to note that Donyale Werle's set - with its clotheslines draping the back wall, strings of lights overhanging the playing space, and rugs draped everywhere - and Clint Ramos's costumes - full of flappers, fringe, and outlandish suits - were quite the treat for the eye.)

Cast: The real star here (sorry, Queenie and Burrs) is Joaquina Kalukango as Kate. She freaking knocks it out of the park, both with her powerful singing and her embodiment of the seedy glamour that infuses the show. Miriam Shor also has a delightful comic turn as Madelaine True, yearning for "An Old-Fashioned Love Story." As for the other three members of the four-pointed love triangle... Brandon Victor Dixon as Black oozes charisma and has a strong voice. Steven Pasquale as Burrs has an equally strong voice (rafter-shaking, if you will), though his acting is not as nuanced. Sutton Foster is an immensely talented performer, and I find her delivery of text refreshing and unique enough that I will see her in anything; however, she did ultimately feel a bit miscast as Queenie - not as sloppy, as about-to-fall-apart, as the narrative demands.

Ultimately, I am glad I got to see the show, but my strongest temptation on leaving the theater was to pick up the LaChiusa album to see how it compares.


Running: Now playing at New York City Center (Encores! Off-Center Series), 2015. Closing: July 18, 2015
Category: concert staging of a musical
Length: 2 hours, including intermission.

Creative Team

Book, Music, and Lyrics: Andrew Lippa
Director: Leigh Silverman
Designers: Sonya Tayeh (Choreography), Donyale Werle (Set), Clint Ramos (Costume), Mark Barton (Lighting), Leon Rothenberg (Sound), Michael Gibson (Orchestrations).
Cast: Ryan Andes, Brandon Victor Dixon, Sutton Foster, Joaquina Kalukango, Talene Monahon, Steven Pasquale, Miriam Shor, Renee Albulario, Penelope Armstead-Williams, James Brown III, Rachel De Benedet, Raymond J. Lee, Kenita R. Miller, Sydney Morton, Clifton Oliver, Charlie Pollock, Britton Smith, Ryan Steele, Samantha Sturm.

Joaquina Kalukango as Kate. Photo by Joan Marcus.

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