Flappers and easy sex and bathtub gin and all that jazz, and tsk, tsk ain’t it all a shame? With a powerful musical backing, Joseph Moncure March’s book-length poem of excess and wantonness is surely expressed in Andrew Lippa’s operatic musical, The Wild Party. But those elements of society have always been with us, and no doubt always will be. This 2000 Off-Broadway musical seems a more appropriate interpretation of March’s message.
Even though many people don’t feel the need to party to the death, many apparently love to sit and watch others do it. Are these vicarious thrills or philosophical gymnastics? Director Craig Johnson finds hope for a better tomorrow in it. What we found was fine acting and exciting music well performed and excellent dancing to energetic choreography. Equally important are the costumes, which are truly a part of the storytelling.
In 1920s Greenwich Village, Queenie, a vaudeville entertainer seeks fulfillment of her carnal desires, and finds them satisfied by Burrs, a vaudeville clown. However, it begins to pall after a while and she plots to liven up their life with a big party. Sure enough, they fill their shared apartment with a collection of free-wheeling worldly characters, and let the fun begin. Included are Madeline True, a lesbian; Eddie, a boxer; Phil and Oscar, a gay couple; Dolores, a hooker; Jackie, a dancer; and a minor named Nadine. After the party has been underway awhile, Kate arrives with her new boyfriend, Mr. Black; and that’s when the fireworks begin.
Queenie is played vivaciously and sexily by Anne Caitlin Donohue, whose vocalizations are enchanting, especially her final number “How Did We Come To This?” James Ilsley does a crushingly intimate job of playing Burrs, prancing, dancing, singing, and displaying to us the true clown’s embodiment of crying on the inside.
The mysterious Mr. Black, who is definitely not “one of this crowd” is played gently and with broad nuance by Ben Muller. Effervescent Melanie Carviou sparkles into the role of Kate, the intruder at the party and in Queenie and Burrs’ relationship.
Natalie Turgeon gives a sympathetic and touching performance as Madeline True, bringing off the ballad “An Old- Fashioned Love Story” tenderly and with pathos. Dancer Randi Winter shines in her graceful and evocative solo in “Jackie’s Last Dance.”
The overall performance level is high energy and precision tight, a tribute to the guiding hand of director Craig Johnson. Musical director David Oberst has drawn together a versatile ensemble of musicians who give us the musical environment of the Roaring Twenties. The period dance, as choreographed by Alison LaRue, add authenticity to the production.
Aside from a sound system which still needs some tweaking, this NRACT production of The Wild Party is a sure winner, but viewers are cautioned that this not a show to bring the kiddies to.
SECOND OPINION: March 11th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2014/03/sophisticated-and-sultry-the-wild-party-is-nracts-best-show-to-date/; March 10th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Glenn McDonald: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/03/10/3690098/theater-review-a-good-time-at.html; March 9th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Nathan Jones: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=6705; and March 5th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Zack Smith: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-wild-party/Event?oid=3639686.
The North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre presents THE WILD PARTY at 8 p.m. March 14 and 15, 3 p.m. March 16, 8 p.m. March 21 and 22, and 3 p.m. March 23 at 7713-51 Lead Mine Road Raleigh, North Carolina 27615, in Greystone Village Shopping Center.
TICKETS: $18.59 ($15.48 students and seniors 62+), including fees.
The Wild Party (2000 Off-Broadway musical): http://www.mtishows.com/show_detail.asp?showid=000234 (Music Theatre International) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wild_Party_%28Lippa_musical%29 (Wikipedia).
Andrew Lippa (New York City composer, lyricist, and librettist): http://andrewlippa.com/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/andrew.lippa (Facebook page, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Lippa (Wikipedia).
Craig Johnson (director): https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004306423862 (Facebook page).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.