Based on Joseph Moncure March’s 1928 poem of the same name, Andrew Lippa’s musical, The Wild Party, opened off Broadway in 2000. The poem was banned for its’ decadent portrayal of the roaring 20s and we settle into our seats expecting an evening of debauchery from The Constellation Theatre Company. The main feature of Scenic Designer, Tony Cisek’s set is an art deco wall with three central stairs leading to a glittering entrance. Behind the upper half of the beautifully lit back wall is a seven piece band.
Queenie was a Blonde opens the show as the male members of the company, in their newsboy attire, surround Queenie (Farrell Parker) and it’s a somewhat uncertain start vocally from the men. The lower half of the stage right wall smartly opens to reveal a bed as we see the origin of Queenie’s sexually abusive relationship with Burrs (Jimmy Mavrikes). Mavrikes plays the light and dark of his character brilliantly and the simple removal of his red clown nose transforms his face with his perfectly sullen eye makeup accentuating every brooding moment. Out of the Blue portrays the fading of the couple’s destructive passion and Parker finds her character somewhere between victim and boredom as ‘the girl who’s caught just staring in space.’ Embracing this introspective lyric is a fine baseline for her character but we need the public façade she presents to be in stark contrast. As Parker makes her entrance at the party she doesn’t so much Raise the Roof as slightly loosen a tile or two.
Look at Me Now marks Kate’s (Kari Ginsburg) arrival and it might as well be an audience instruction for the rest of the night as it’s hard to take your eyes off of her. Ginsburg oozes charisma as the slightly washed up party girl and you can feel her character’s life experience in every single thing she does on stage. Kate has brought Black (Ian Anthony Coleman) with her and he quickly becomes transfixed by Queenie. Poor Child introduces us to Coleman’s smooth vocals and when he drops into his lower register it’s like being wrapped in a warm blanket. The climax of the song, featuring Queenie, Burrs, Kate and Black is perhaps the musical highlight of the whole night. Music Director, Walter McCoy, finds the perfect blend to the overlapping lyrics and what started as melancholy ballad evolves into electrifying raw emotion with Mavrikes in particular pouring everything he has into the moment.
Allison Arkell Stockman has done a masterful job directing this cast and making the limited rhyming dialogue feel truthful and natural. It would be very easy for the other company members to be clichés – after all their stereotypes are named when they are first introduced – but they hit every comedic beat without ever falling into that trap. Rachel Barlaam steals her moments as the predatory lesbian, Madelaine True, and her performance in An Old Fashioned Love Story is laugh out loud funny as is her comic timing throughout the evening. The Juggernaut gives the band a chance to show their full repertoire and they sound at their sultry best (unfortunately the chemistry between Parker and Coleman does not quite reach the same heights) before a breathtaking finale to the song with Ginsburg singing like a women possessed.
The d’Armano brothers (Tiziano D’Affuso & Christian Montgomery) pitch their idea for a musical with A Wild, Wild Party and lighthearted storytelling gives way to high octane choreography. Ilona Kessell’s routines are relevant and entertaining all night but this is the highlight as the energy and execution are spectacular and it’s hard to tell if the audience or the cast are having the most fun. This feels like such a natural end to the first act it comes as somewhat of a surprise to find everyone is still on the stage. Two of a Kind seems destined to be an anticlimax but Eddie (Calvin Malone) and Mae (Emily Zickler) don’t allow that to happen and find their own moment in a thoroughly adorable routine. What is it About Her? is powerfully staged by Stockman, using the full depth of the space, as Burrs and Queenie sing about their relationship while sat with Kate and Black respectively. It is Parker’s best moment of the night as her tragic vocals intertwine wonderfully with Mavrikes’ passionate pleading.
Any thought that the momentum would be lost by the intermission is blown away as Ginsburg completely owns the stage in The Life of the Party. It’s the type of performance that should have her name at the top of any list when award season comes around. The arrival of a bathtub center stage moves the action to the bathroom and after Burrs fails to get his way with Queenie a smart lighting change transports him back into his role as performer as he briefly faces the audience before launching into the self-destructive anthem Let Me Drown. Kessell’s choreography is terrific again as despite the largely flat space she creates depth and levels with her actors as they crouch around the tub before Burrs climbs on top of it and is transported around the stage as the captain of his vessel. The slow motion fight scene that follows, choreographed by Robb Hunter, adds yet another layer to this production and A.J. Guban’s lighting, which is on point throughout, complements it perfectly with strobe effects. Queenie leads Black to the bedroom and Come with Me certainly brings out the sex in Coleman’s voice but that doesn’t really translate into the physicality between him and Parker and the scene ultimately feels a little awkward. The tension is soon restored as the Queenie, Black, Burr, triangle reaches its’ tragic finale in Make Me Happy. Mavrikes is utterly believable as the unhinged Burrs as he threatens to Kill Black and himself and it’s a performance every bit as compelling as Ginsburg’s.
Constellation has pulled off something special. There is a great depth of talent in this cast and this production team has given them the platform to shine. With two unmissable performances and tickets available at an absolute steal it’s one of the must see shows of the season.
#tothepoint Rating: 82.5/100
You can view a full breakdown of the allocated points here.
Ticket Price: $55
Value Review: +$15
With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $70. We have based the value rating of +$15 on the highest priced tickets of $55. This show is terrific value at this price but there are tickets available for this show at just $25! See this show while you can. The Wild Party continues at Constellation until October 29th.