Book by Michael John LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe
Based on the poem by Joesph Moncure March
Directed & Choreographed by Brenda Dider
Produced by Bailiwick Chicago Theater
Slick, sophisticated, and manic 20’s musical depicts the decadence of the era
Don’t confuse Michael John LaChiusa’s The Wild Party with the vastly inferior Andrew Lippa production. LaChiusa reigns as his musical is his opus. It is too bad that in 2000, the producers of each production of The Wild Party canceled each other out in search of a Broadway audience. LaChiusa’s musical ran for only 68 performances, with Mandy Potinkin in the lead. As so often happens, the creatives at Bailwick Chicago Theater have rediscovered and re-thought this ambitious work under the direction and choreography of the brilliant Brenda Didier.
The result is one of the most enjoyable evenings of musical theatre I’ve spent in many years! This production of The Wild Party is a major triumph for Bailiwick Chicago Theater! It has all the elements of a hit show: the music, lyrics, and book are exciting, tuneful and smart, the cast is amazing as it is filled with skilled actor/singers/comics, and the orchestra sounded smoothly terrific with their jazz riffs. The show’s manic pace keeps us engaged as the singing, dancing, and comic terms as well as the erotic, sexy, hedonistic, and decadence of the Roaring 20’s is vividly displayed. LaChiusa’s work combines the rawness of a dramatic fable with a jazz infused musical filled with flawed, lonely, and sex-starved folks struggling for meaningful connections. This 105 minute one-act will overwhelm you with its energy and sensuality. The Wild Party is based on the poem by Joseph Moncure March, whose verse finds its way into this production nicely.
We are in Manhattan in 1928 and Queenie (the fabulous Danni Smith), a vaudeville chorus girl who is attracted to violent and sadistic men hosts a blowout all-night party with her vicious, insane lover Burrs (a tour de force performance by Matthew Keffer), a black-faced minstrel performer. The guests are a mixture of NYC’s unruly, lonely, and undone types. The vaudeville roots of the cast is a workable motif.
Th guests contain a cocaine-sniffing bisexual playboy, Jackie (the terrific Ryan Lanning), a washed-up boxer, Eddie (Steven Perkins), a black brother act that channels the Nichols Brothers – the incestuously devoted D’Armono Brothers, Oscar and Phi (Desmond Gray & Gilbert Donnally), who sing and dance to “Uptown” deftly. The aging diva with a long theatre history, Delores (Danielle Brothers in a hoot of a performance) woos the theatrical producers who are fighting over their name (With Gold wanting to change Goldberg’s name to “Golden” to hide their Jewish heritage) and how to become successful (“Gold and Goldberg”), played with comic aplomb by Jason Grimm and Jason Richards. Among the other guests are a lesbian actress and her comatose girlfriend (Christiana Hall and Sasha Smith), plus the fresh-from-the-farm ingenue Mae (Khaki Pixley), and Queenie’s friend and rival Kate (the winning Sharriese Hamilton), and her boy toy Black (Patrick Falcon) who has eyes for Queenie, and you have the ingredients for a manically aggressive musical.
LaChiusa’s jazz score, with loads of vaudeville elements with some bluesy ballads, carries the story. The angst and the hurts of these flawed yet compelling folks toward fun, escape, sex, and drunkenness as their debauchery leads to tragedy after a night of gin-infused fun is exhausting to watch.
Among the remarkable accomplishments by LaChiusa and Wolfe that director/choreographer Brenda Didier made in The Wild Party was that the story contains a rich, fully developed group of characters depicted through song, dance, and comedy. This show is a drama that morphs into a musical that marvelously tells its story through songs and strong acting. The singing, dancing and comic turns by the entire cast were amazing. Danni Smith, Ryan Lanning, and Danielle Brothers were particular standouts, but the strong, acting, manic eeriness, and fine vocals from Matthew Keffer anchored the show! This is a tour de force performance by Matthew Keffer who give a career-making performance as Burris, the jealous-insane lover.
The Wild Party, arguably Bailiwick Chicago Theater’s finest achievement to date, proves that a talented, dedicated and fully committed cast of non-Equity players can carry a musical to superb heights. Their ensemble work here is first class that all involved should be extremely proud of. This production is one of the finest non-Equity musicals mounted on a Chicago stage in years! Don’t miss this wonderful show. Its party time!
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: October 5, 2014
For more info checkout The Wild Party page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Richard Christiansen Theater at Victory Gadens theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-871-3000, www.victorygardens.org, tickets $40, Thursdays & Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 3 p, running time is 105 minutes without an intermission, though November 1, 2014