It doesn’t take long at all for the audience to realize how wild this wild party is going to get.
The party I refer to is “The Wild Party,” Andrew Lippa’s decadent and sly musical, running at San Jose Stage through July 17rh. What the Stage does with this piece is bring forth a production that is long on steam and sharp on vocals, telling a compelling story fueled by plenty of performers who flex their significant theatre muscle.
The Stage has presented musicals annually that have been off the beaten path. In the past few years, titles such as “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” “The Addams Family” and “Reefer Madness” have graced their spring stage, and “The Wild Party” is easily the most risqué of their choices.
The story is set in the roaring ‘20’s, adapted from the 1928 poem by Joseph Moncure March. Queenie (a sultry performance by Allison F. Rich) is on the prowl for someone who can satisfy her sexual appetite. Not long after her quest, she runs into the vaudeville clown Burrs (a sharp performance by Noel Anthony), whose own appetite for the flesh is second to none. They make a highly toxic partnership, heavy on sex and high on danger.
Clearly, this energy cannot sustain itself, so a party is now in order, a wild one with people whose names are their identities; Madeleine the dimwit, Mae the Lesbian, Eddie the thug and Nadine the minor, to name a few.
But there is one other man that snatches up Queenie’s attention – the mysterious Mr. Black (richly-voiced Carmichael “CJ” Blankenship, also serving as co-choreographer). While Queenie stares longingly at the voluptuous and chiseled Black, Burrs lurks in the shadows, hints of clown makeup and a silly red nose rest ironically upon his contoured and angered face. Violence is nearby, driven by jealousy, sex and power.
The production makes great use of the Stage’s theatre setup on Michael Palumbo’s dark and mysterious set and lighting design, with each part of the space featuring performers in full view at all times. Director David Davalos presents a mostly unified vision through the tight choreography of Blankenship and Brett Blankenship. And while the music is fused with various styles, some of Lippa’s score becomes a bit too laborious and awkward. But much of the music is driven with fantastic nuance and sharp harmonies, making great use of Lauren Bevilacqua’s stellar music direction.
The show is a delightful showcase of strength in their individual performers. While Blankenship’s voice is one that would sell tickets for a reading of a phonebook, his performance should continue to be driven by digging even deeper down into the earth. Rich always has a solid command of her characters, an actor’s actor who has zero problems with being scantily clad, fully committing in a Meisnerian way to any character she inhabits. Anthony does much good work away from the scenes, just in the way he watches and simply observes, danger lurking nearby. And Courtney Hatcher, playing the animated Kate, continues her ascent as a young actress to watch for, oodles of stage presence and talent on full display.
So many of the individual numbers were ear pleasing, especially for those who are suckers for harmony. Hatcher’s version of “Look at Me Now” is joyful and full of energy. “Poor Child” is done with lots of gentleness and some impressive fugues by the four principals. “I’ll Be Here” is soulful and jazzy, making great use of Blankenship’s wonderful instrument. Even Theresa Ann Swain offers up plenty of deliciousness as Madame True in “An Old Fashioned Love Story.”
“The Wild Party” is driven by great storytelling and does a bang-up job of offering up plenty of dramatic tension. The cast offers a great level of commitment to the story. Now this party is certainly wild all right.
And if it’s too wild for you, you best not even enter.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
San Jose Stage Company presents “The Wild Party”
Book, music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Directed by David Davalos
Choreographed by Brett Blankenship and Carmichael “CJ” Blankenship
Musical Direction by Lauren Bevilacqua
The Word: A quirky musical with great music, led by lots of wonderful, individual performances
Stars: 4.5 out of 5
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission
Recommendation by the company – PG 16
Through July 17th
San Jose Stage Company
490 S. First Street
San Jose, CA
Tickets range from $30 – $65
For tickets, call (408) 283-7142 or visit www.thestage.org
The Wild Party, although filled with rich and exquisite individual performances, was a rare misstep by the usually superb San Jose Stage Company. The music wasn’t in any way memorable, the characters plastic, and, quite frankly, the story was dull, dull, dull. My partner and I were bored the whole way through.
Despite the characters being scantily clad and the ongoing orgy in the background, the show lacked any sexiness or even believable tension between the characters. It in no way lived up to the tawdry promise of being inspired by the Fatty Arbuckle story. A story so dated and steeped in the mores of the 20’s and 30’s required something to give it appeal to modern audiences. This wasn’t achieved.
In years of attending performances at SJ Stage, I’ve only very occasionally encountered a show that wasn’t to my taste. It’s never stopped me from coming back. This one won’t, either, especially given the calibre of actors and directors the company is able to attract. But please, don’t pick another snooze-fest like this one.