The Wild Party: A Sexy Musical of the Jazz Age
The greatness of this musical—set in the twilight of the decadent Jazz Age (the late 1920s), based on a Jazz Age poem by Joseph Moncure March, and written and composed by Andrew Lippa at the end of the decadent dot-com Clinton years (the late 1990s)—is that it's so messy. The music is a mess, the writing is a mess, the plot is a mess. But a director who tries to clean up any part of this sexy show, put its music onto sounder historical ground, delete the extra words in the writing, put the rambling story in order, and cut out the digressions would be making a huge fucking mistake. Thankfully, director Corey McDaniel, musical director Carl Petrillo, and choreographer Jessica Low did not make this mistake. They let this animal be an animal. The music goes from sweetly impressionistic to gospel-like enthusiasm, the writing rises to poetry and falls into cheesiness, and the plot refuses to add up or pretend that it has a goal other than to keep us entertained with stuff that comes, as one character sings, "Out of the Blue."
The strong performances in this production are by Allison Standley, who plays a whore with a serious coke habit, and Tori Spero, the star of the show who plays Queenie, a voluptuous vaudeville dame who spends much of her life in bed and is stuck in a dying relationship with a clown named Burrs (Troy Wageman). Much of the actors' successes have to do with the raw power of their voices and bodies. The Wild Party, which concerns a wild party thrown by two unhappy lovers, could never be about great acting (it wasn't written that way), but instead is about the sheer expenditure of erotic energies in a variety of modes and combinations—man/man, man/woman, woman/woman. Other things to note: Jesse Smith, who plays Mr. Black, brings a delightful dose of R&B style to his sentimental jazz pieces, and Wageman's Burrs has about him the ghost of the beastly bulk that made Marlon Brando's performance in A Streetcar Named Desire a permanent part of the American imagination.
I have only one wish for this production: Booze must be served to the audience during the long party scene. Getting drunker and drunker as the party on the stage gets wilder and wilder would make this beautifully messy play even messier.