New York Theatre Guide Reviews THE WILD PARTY
Second Generation Theatre Company closes out its tenure at The New Phoenix Theatre with Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party, based on a Joseph Moncure March poem of the same name that was banned in the late twenties for being too consistent with the debauchery of the decade. Lippa wrote the book, music and lyrics to this raunchy musical that was originally performed Off Broadway back in the nineteen-nineties. This production is directed and choreographed by the multitalented Michael Walline.
The Wild Party unmasks the decade of decadence through a pair of cabaret performers/lovers that live for the thrill. Queenie is one of those young, blonde and beautiful femme fatale types that attract the wrong type of guy. Burrs is that guy – the life of the party, a playboy with the ladies and viciously angry. The two of them, bored with each other, decide to throw a party to end all parties. What ensues is a night of sex, drugs, dance and violence that only a group that flirts with disaster can produce.
Walline’s actors turn up the juice in an angry tour-de-force of sexual misconduct and soul crushing exhibitionism that produced as many gasps as laughs. The director’s casting is notable for its diversity in body types. I’ve never seen so many big guys do so much dancing in a confined space. Everybody sings, dances and strips naked in this seedy cross section of a decade that is rarely depicted as anything but wealthy people sipping champagne. In this version there are only desperate drunks on the verge of madness, whose only hope of saving themselves from the frantic pre-dawn moments is passing out.
Arianne Davidow, as Queenie, is every bit the siren of the March poem. She sells herself long and short in countless instances of personal betrayal until she meets a savior in Mr. Black, a clean-cut looking stranger with redemptive possibilities. Davidow leads this party down the dark path with sultry good looks and the killer instincts of a deadly cobra, and is every bit the object of desire that she needs to be.
Queenie’s leading man, Burrs, played by Matt Witten, is an equally tortured soul – angry and apologetic. When suave, sweet Mr. Black enters the party, the two worlds collide and Witten carries the aftermath around stage like an enraged gorilla in a cage. His deadly obsession presses on him throughout the play and culminates in an explosive confrontation or two.
Lauren Alaimo, as Queenie’s best friend Kate, steals many scenes with acid-tongued barbs, drug fueled outbursts and desperate advances for Burrs, only to be turned away again and again, something one assumes she is used to.
Steve Copps, as Mr. Black, begins the evening as Kate’s date and suffers the biggest non-death-tragedy of the entire production. Copps plays the straight man to a tee and has an easy singing voice that was just right for his fish out of water role.
Several other performers delivered strong showings during the evening. Charmagne Chi, as Madeline, delivers one of the lighter moments of the production during the solo number “An Old-Fashioned Love Story”, about the difficulties of being a lesbian. Eric Rawski playing the boxer Eddie and Arin Lee Dandes as Mae, show their love for one another in the cute “Two of a Kind”. Jamie Boswell and Matthew Iwanski, playing the Brothers D’Armano, acted as referees to the brewing feud between Burrs and Black with a fantastic musical number titled “A Wild, Wild Party”. All three songs gave a little breathing room in between melodramatic solos and show stopping ensemble pieces.
The company as a whole performs several songs together in masterful choreography of voice and body. Songs like “What a Party”, “Raise the Roof,” and, “The Juggernaut,” increase the temperature of the room at New Phoenix Theatre with non-stop pounding beats and bodies. The Orchestra, led by Allan Paglia, is hidden behind the stage but makes its presence felt by keeping the era-specific tracks rolling all night long.
The party eventually winds down and everyone’s desires come to fruition. As for Queenie there is only one way out of the life she shares with Burrs, but stepping over the bodies strewn all over the apartment only gets her out in to the blinding light of day, something she hasn’t seen in quite awhile.
Overall the performances, song, and, dance, are balanced nicely against a bleak backdrop of jealousy, drunkenness and sexual desire. There are wonderfully timed bits of humor scattered throughout to calm the waters in between the simulated sex and drug abuse. The Wild Party is an explosive musical that features a brave cast and a rocking live orchestra that rises above its pulp melodramas to deliver an insightful look in to the way people strive to get better, or get drunk trying.