Review: ‘The Wild Party’ by Ovations Theatre Senior Company

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By Andy Arnold

Ovations Theatre’s Senior Company ended the 2017-2018 season with Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party playing June 15 – 17. And what a party it was thanks to Darnell Patrick Morris’ direction, Theresa Cunningham’s vocal direction, Robert Mintz’s choreography and a superb cast that played far more mature than it was. Morris doubled as the costume designer and his bloomers, flappers, and feather headbands for the women were fine. The men could have used more variety with straw hats of the era or a Good Time Charlie suit thrown in for variety.

Ovations Theatre Senior Company concluded its 2017-2018 season with Andrew Lippa's Wild Party. Photo by Lock & Company.
Ovations Theatre Senior Company concluded its 2017-2018 season with Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party. Photo by Lock & Company.

The musical is based on a book-length poem published by Joseph Moncure March in 1928. Drinking alcohol was prohibited by federal law in 1920. To set some context: Prohibition (the prohibition of alcohol) opened the door to organized crime. Women won the right to vote in 1920, and the U.S. economy was still roaring following the First World War.

The poem and musical are set in decadent Manhattan, where sin, sex, drugs, and rock and, uh, jazz, are religious activities for some. The mindset is “live for the moment.” These folks are going to Hell and enjoying the trip.

Stage Manager Jenna Ballard’s wheeled props and ensemble members working with production assistants to move sets worked. The seven-member orchestra never missed a beat. The students did a wonderful job of creating a 1928 Manhattan apartment party in a Rockville auditorium for an evening. For the moral purists out there who want to argue children shouldn’t do this sort of thing, my reply is that it is called performing. And these players did an outstanding job at it.

Recent graduate Yasmin Ranz-Lind portrayed Queenie. A fantastic singer, Ranz-Lind also brought acting and attitude to the role of a hard-drinking vaudeville dancer living on the downside of a relationship with an abusive, but popular with the ladies, vaudeville clown named Burrs (Sam Nasar, another recent grad).

“Queenie was a Blonde” opens the show with the male members of the company in their newsboy outfits, swooning with delight. Ranz-Lind was excellent in the song. “…With those shoulders, What a back she had, Her legs were built to drive men mad…” she sang introducing herself and a men’s chorus repeated. “She liked her lovers violent, And she liked her lovers vicious, But until she found the one man, Who could answer all her wishes, Queenie was sexually ambitious…”

Yasmin Ranz-Lind as Queenie in Wild Party. Photo by Lock & Company.
Yasmin Ranz-Lind as Queenie in Wild Party. Photo by Lock & Company.

But the latter part of the song explains her relationship with Burrs: “And, yes, he played the girlie game, But behind the scenes; He was mean and rough, He was mean and rough, He was made of vile and violent stuff, They liked him tough.”

That lasted until the next number when a bored Queenie sets out to hurt the object of her desire with a party to end all parties. Fed up with the depraved life she lives and the emotional and physical pain Burrs puts her through, she decides to throw the party to shake things up a little. Burrs agrees and they invite a whole slew of colorful characters to their home.

The party features boot-legged liquor, dames offering some hip-grinding dances for the few men in attendance, cocaine and horny lesbian Madelaine True (Amanda Primosch) who can’t find a date in spite of the great number of women.

Queenie wants to make Burrs jealous. Her plan works too well when a high-priced hooker, Kate (Meghan Carey) shows up with a recently found boy-toy, Mr. Black, played by Jonah Swartz, who is completing his sophomore year in high school. Queenie goes a little too far and begins to fall in lust for Black. Burrs rejects Kate’s best plays, his jealousy becomes too much for him, and he turns to violence.

Carey, an Ovations vet, with another year of high school to complete, threatened to steal the show in the role of Kate with her performance of Life of the Party opening act two. Kate is the nemesis to Queenie. The ladies, Burrs, and Black form a forbidden love rectangle essential to the story.

Oscar (Declan Feldhusen), Phil (Max Grecht), Queenie, and Burrs are hilarious in “A Wild, Wild Party.” The song turns a disrespectful sway on the creation story. Primrosch as Madelaine also brings the house down with “Old Fashion Love Story.”

Bravo to everyone involved in this production.

Running Time: Two hours, with one fifteen-minute intermission.

The Wild Party, presented by Ovations Theatre Senior Company, plays through June 17, 2018, at Kreeger Auditorium, 6126 Montrose Road, Rockville, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 881-0100, or purchase them online.