Laurel Mill Playhouse is having a wild, WILD party and they’re inviting you! There’s excitement! There’s sex! There’s dancing! There’s scandal! It’s a roaring good time guaranteed on the pernicious planks of the old main street playhouse; a scintillating musical thriller where one raucous night turns wickedly disastrous right before your very eyes. Stunning vocal talent under exceptional direction, Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party flourishes in all its iniquitous glory. A sinfully stellar production Directed by Michael V. Hartsfield, with Musical Direction by Alice Laurissa, there’s a wild invitation with your name on it if you’re bold and daring enough to take it.
Scenic Designers Alice Harris and Stephen Deininger create the thrumming atmosphere of the party life of the 1920’s in their rich red and black set design. The fancy black marbling on the walls juxtaposed against the red accents creates a thrillingly scandalous atmosphere that sets the tone for the entire plot of the musical. Harris and Deininger craft intricacy into simplicity in this fashion, enabling the actors to play their emotions fully without distraction. A tasteful set with hints of creative minimalism, the designers put just the right touch of flare into their work to echo the sentiments of the show.
Costume Designers JoAnna Cross and Hayley North accentuate the atmospheric design with their ravishing aesthetics. In screaming tribute to the 20s, North and Cross showcase a plethora of styles for the women— including bugle bead dresses, feathery fascinators, and spidery fishnet stockings—while unifying the men in sharp suits and snappy suspenders. The flashiest piece of their combined efforts shows up in a sparkly sequined dress featured in sassy scarlet for Kate. It’s a razzle-dazzle spectacle on the stage in the costume department.
On the intimate stage of the playhouse, largely choreographed numbers in the theme of the 20’s can be quite the task. Choreographer Terrence Bennett lays the groundwork for success with his simplistic yet clean routines. Numbers like “What a Party” feature basic but intense full ensemble shuffling that gives the song movement without clutter. Bennett’s work during “The Juggernaut” is remarkable as the ensemble gives a rousing rendition of sexy dance that captures the epitome of the 1920’s dancing scene.
Musical Director Alice Harris leads the live orchestra— hidden by the panels of Queenie’s bedroom— with great vigor. At the beginning of the musical the orchestra does seem to have difficulty with sudden tempo and key changes but these minor faults fade entirely as the musical progresses. Harris does an exceptional job of keeping the orchestra’s sound under control; they hardly ever wash out the principles singers.
Directed Michael V. Hartsfield brings a tremendously talented cast to the stage in this unconventionally daring musical. Out of the ordinary for Laurel Mill’s season, this refreshing and ravenously riveting show has scurrilous appeal to denizens of theatrical parties everywhere. Hartsfield brings a vision to the show; playing it in its truest form and letting the story speak for itself.
The ensemble is powerful, though at times their harmonies are not the smoothest. Echoing triumphantly in numbers like “Raise the Roof” and “A Wild, Wild Party,” the strength in their limited numbers is displayed without hesitance. There are moments, particularly when Burrs attempts his solo lines above this thunderous ensemble, that the principle sounds are washed away but only on occasion does this become an issue.
Featured soloists like the concupiscent Madelaine True (Felicia Akunwafor) and the vaudevillian duo Oscar (James Raymond) and Phil (David Hale) make their presences felt and heard throughout the performance. Akunwafor delights the audience with her prodigious personality and equally big belting sounds during “An Old-Fashioned Lesbian Love Story.” Bringing an intensity to match her character’s libidinous desires, Akunwafor carves out the comedy in her desperate tale. Hale and Raymond are like two splendiferous peas in a pod, playing well off one another and rarely featured apart. Their big show-stopping number, “A Wild, Wild Party” really gives them the opportunity to work each other’s angles for maximum audience enjoyment.
Mae (Joanna Cross) and Eddie (Daniel Douek) are another inseparable pair; though unlike Phil and Oscar there is no doubt they are lovers. Cross brings an ear-splitting nasally sound to the character, while Douek’s natural Argentinean accent creates an enigmatic charm to Eddie. Their cloyingly sweet advances toward one another are so disgustingly mushy that it becomes a parody of romantic lovers. Their duet, “Two of a Kind” reiterates this syrupy sentiment, but is sung brilliantly by the duo.
Black (Carl Williams) appears on the scene with a smooth edge to his persona. Williams’ sound is unique in the most indescribable fashion; a quality sound that hits the correct pitch and solidifies notes without having words to do it justice. His harmonies with Queenie during “Poor Child Reprise” and the quartet swells of “Poor Child” are welcoming but mellow, edgy but soft; an utter vocal paradox. His genuine emotional outreach toward Queenie and overall hostility toward Burrs is grounded in his physical stature and radiates outward into his songs.
Kate (Emily Sergo) is nothing short of a show-stopping hussy that steals everyone’s thunder, lightning, and storm clouds the moment she blasts through the door in “Look at Me Now.” A vocal knockout with belts that shake the roof, Sergo asserts her domineering personality all over the stage with a confidence in her strut that is second to none. Bursting at the seams with sass and passion, Sergo imbues all of her musical numbers with volcanic pizzazz that showers all over everyone within earshot. Her solo “Life of the Party” makes her the song’s namesake as she blasts out her “Wham! Bam! Thank you, ma’am” style and owns the number without apology.
Queenie (Samantha McEwen) and Burrs (Stephen Deininger) are fit to be tied when they match up. Both performers bring their own brand of eruptive expressions to the performance and rile so thoroughly against one another that it is hard to imagine their characters were ever once pleasant lovers. The chemistry between the two on stage isn’t just volatile; it’s caustic bordering on the edge of fatal. From their body language to their intense glares, McEwen and Deininger have corrupted a passion into something far darker and more sinister than your average loathing.
Deininger’s voice is astounding. McEwen’s voice is sensational. The descriptors could be reversed and the statements would still stand as fact. McEwen exudes sexuality when slinking all over Black during “The Juggernaut” while Deininger glowers with vehement fury waiting to erupt from within him. There is something to be said for McEwen’s ability to thoroughly nail the syncopated rhythms of “A Wild, Wild Party,” while Deininger excels at the complexities of ballad style numbers like “What is it About Her?” The pair is vocally, emotionally, and physically unstoppable in this performance; an intensity the likes of which has previously never been experience at Laurel Mill Playhouse. “Let Me Drown” is Deininger’s most intense number; a culmination of every emotion his character has developed throughout the play while McEwen’s defining moment comes at the end of the piece during “How Did We Come to This?” where she is forced to bare the vulnerability of everything that has been torn asunder in her character’s existence.
The Wild Party musical is powerful and the actors are astonishing. Who doesn’t love a party? And Laurel Mill Playhouse is certainly having one hell of a party!
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission.
Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party plays through May 17, 2014 at The Laurel Mill Playhouse— 508 Main Street, in Laurel, MD. For reservations, call the box office at (301) 617-9906.