In 1928, Joseph Moncure March wrote a racy narrative poem that was received quite successfully, despite a ban resulting from its controversial content, called “The Wild Party.” And in 2000, a musical of the same name, with books, lyrics, and music by Andrew Lippa, made its world-premiere. With the original poem as its inspiration, the musical centers around two insatiable lovers, Queenie and Burrs, and the raging party they throw.
Constellation Theatre Company opened Lippa’s The Wild Party on Monday and their production more than lives up to the title. Director Allison Arkell Stockman has put together a cast that is stacked with talent. And a live band performs the Jazz Age styled score, with Walter “Bobby” McCoy conducting. McCoy also served as Musical Director for the production, with superb sound design by Justin Schmitz. Put all of that together and you get two and a half hours of high-energy, jaw-dropping performances that blow the roof right off the joint.
Scenic Designer, Tony Cisek, created a fantastic set with pieces that roll in and out as needed. The band sits upstage on a raised platform, walled in by ornate panels and a beaded curtain doorway that become partially transparent and appear to change color when lit by A. J. Guban’s stunning light design.
Dynamic choreography by Ilona Kessell fits perfectly with the fluctuations of the show’s tone – from couples dancing lively to writhing in sexual ecstasy – and includes the use of a rotating bed and some creative, sensual bed-ography.
The couple at the center of it all is Queenie (Farrell Parker) and Burrs (Jimmy Mavrikes). “Queenie Was A Blonde” opens the show and lays out the groundwork. Both are vaudeville performers (Queenie is a dancer; Burrs is a clown) with no shortage of admirers. After many lovers that never quite satisfy, they finally find each other and fireworks ensue.
Burrs has a tendency towards violence, which originally attracts Queenie but, after a time, she tires and their relationship grows stale. In an attempt to reignite the passion that brought them together, Queenie suggests throwing a party, with “Out of the Blue,” and Burrs readily agrees.
An eclectic group of characters surge in with the company number, “What A Party,” and Queenie appears as the belle of the ball to work and woo the crowd. Parker’s subtle but stunning voice matches Queenie’s character. She floats through the scene and the attention flocks to her. But despite Queenie’s efforts to incite a reaction in Burrs, he immediately seeks out the fresh meat, which comes in the form of Nadine (Patricia ‘Pep” Targete), a lovely, naïve, under-aged girl. Queenie quickly finds her means for revenge and hones in on seducing a new party arrival, the dashing Mr. Black (Ian Anthony Coleman). But the tit-for-tat jealousy battle does not end there. Black has arrived with Kate (Kari Ginsburg), an old friend of Queenie’s, who sees right through Queenie’s game and in-turn decides to seduce Burrs.
But that is only the beginning. The party is fraught with scuffles and hookups, as booze and debauchery lead the way. There is never a question of if something will go wrong, but merely when, what, and how.
Mavrikes, as Burrs, exudes passion and is a master of the intense, seductive stare, offering no question to why women melt in his arms. His voice is incredibly powerful and clear, causing a collective exhalation from the audience each time a song ends.
Parker plays Queenie’s coldness with perfection. She uses her sexual nature and appeal to get what she wants (if only she could figure out what that was). And, together, Mavrikes and Parker make a couple with sizzling chemistry that seems neither healthy not sustainable, but still altogether irresistible.
Ginsburg as Kate is a complex character with her confident persona at war with her self-deprecating tongue. She truly cares for Burrs and her journey is a heartbreaking one to watch. Ginsburg has her own killer set of pipes, as proven when she first bursts into the party singing “Look at Me Now.”
Madelaine True, played by Rachel Barlaam, is a lesbian on the prowl. She sings of her desires to find a lover in “An Old-Fashioned Love Story.” Barlaam’s vocal command, combined with her comedic brilliance, made this number perfectly outrageous and incredible. Barlaam plays the raunchy side of True but with such an endearing, love sick-way that the audience can’t help but hope she finds someone to stumble home with her.
Then there’s Eddie (Calvin Malone), the pugilist, and his doll-face woman, Mae (Emily Zickler). Malone and Zickler make an adorable couple: One slays with beauty, the other with brawn. They’re like that couple, who borders on nauseating but you can’t help but love them because they’re so perfect. They sing the upbeat “Two of a Kind.”
Phil and Oscar d’Armano, played by Tiziano D’Affuso and Christian Montgomery respectively, are the composer/brother/lover duo who are trying to convince producer, Sam (James Finely), to have a look at their work. In the spectacularly funny number, “The Wild, Wild Party,” they finally get their chance. Burrs and Queenie play Adam and Eve, while one of the partygoers, Max (Carl Williams), does the most fabulous portrayal of God that ever was.
Lippa’s The Wild Party is a non-stop ride of a musical, and Constellation Theatre Company’s production is bursting with life. The show is fun and uplifting, while simultaneously dark and deeply heart-breaking. By no means considered a feel-good show, the musical will leave you feeling sated and inspired. The gorgeous score is reason enough, but knockout performances of the ensemble make witnessing this show a must.
Kudos to the cast and crew of Constellation for an outstanding production. You have indeed put on a wild, wild party!
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission.
The Wild Party plays through October 29, 2017 at Constellation Theatre Company performing at Source Theater – 1835 14th Street, in Washington D.C. For tickets, buy them at the door, or purchase them online.
NOTE: Recommended for ages 18 and up.