Great Cast, Production Lifts Dark ‘Wild Party’ To Dizzying Heights (4.5 Stars)

 

by Mike Hoban

 

‘The Wild Party’Written by Michael John LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe, with music and lyrics by LaChiusa; Directed and Choreographed by Rachel Bertone; Music Direction by Dan Rodriguez; Set Design by Allison Choat; Lighting Design by John Malinowski; Costume Design by Marian Bertone. Presented by Moonbox Productions at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston through May 1st.

For the cynics among us who tend to dismiss musicals as lighthearted, heart-warming fare for the sentimental set, there are always works like The Wild Party that remind us that not all of the genre is of the feel-good variety. And while it may lack the sheer horror of say, Sweeney Todd, this trip into the dark night of the soul is a stark reminder that for many, the fear of being alone in the world is as terrifying as any razor-wielding maniac. Moonbox Productions has taken this unsettling look at the tortured lives and loves of showbiz folk in the vaudeville era and produced a gem of a show, with killer song and dance numbers delivered by an extraordinary cast. It’s an intense look at both the enjoyable side of debauchery and its inevitable consequences.

The plot revolves around platinum blonde showgirl Queenie (Katie Anne Clark in another dynamite performance) and her latest bad boyfriend choice, the jealous and violent Burrs, a blackface crooner in a minstrel show. Queenie gives him ample reason to be jealous, and when Burrs erupts into another physical confrontation with her, he tries to make it up to her by throwing a ‘wild party’, complete with their circle of societal degenerate showbiz friends.

In addition to Queenie and Burrs, the line-up includes Kate, Queenie’s best frenemy who has made the big time, and her unfaithful lover Black; Dolores, a former Vaudeville star on the way down; the a-little-too-enamored-with-each-other-to-be-siblings D'Armono Brothers, Oscar and Phil; Gold and Goldberg, two show producers headed out of Vaudeville to Uptown, but not before they shed their Jewish-sounding names (and whom Burrs and Dolores hope to impress enough to take them along); Eddie, a black boxing champion, and Mae, his (white) former showgirl wife; lesbian stripper Madelaine and her new girlfriend and protégé, the morphine-addicted Sally; Jackie, the pansexual coke fiend; and Nadine, a wide-eyed kid who accompanies her sister Mae to “see the lights of Broadway”, unaware that Broadway has its share of dumpsters too.

The night starts off full of raucous good fun, with a string of upbeat numbers that almost leave you screaming for a ballad break, but as the bathtub gin and cocaine-fueled evening wears on and the lives of the participants are more fully revealed, we realize that most of the guests are partying not so much to enjoy themselves but to stay ahead of the misery of their unexamined lives. Before the dawn comes, gallons of gin will be consumed, an orgy (and a rape) will take place, women will be smacked around by their significant others, infidelity of all sorts will take place, and happiness will be nowhere to be found for virtually the entire cast of characters. Thankfully there is a great jazz score accompanying all this partying/misery – even without the benefit of a show stopping number (although there are some very good ones, done beautifully).

Director and choreographer Rachel Bertone gets the most out of a very talented cast, and the pacing is just about perfect, from a breakneck opening through the fiery exchanges between lovers to the whimpers of resignation to their fates at the end. Katie Anne Clark is both steely and vulnerable in the role as Queenie, and really delivers in this demanding role. Todd Yard is thoroughly convincing as the near-psychotic Burrs, and the uber sexy Carla Martinez is perfectly cast as the hardened star on the way up and out of Vaudeville. There isn’t a weak link in the entire supporting cast, just suffice to say that it’s one of the best ensemble pieces I’ve seen this year. While this work may be a little on the dark side for some, it is brilliantly executed and a testament to the talents of the cast, production crew and Bertone. For more info, go to: http://www.moonboxproductions.org/wild