To quote Noel Coward, “I’ve been to a marvelous party … and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more.”
Loosely based on Joseph Moncure March’s epic 1926 narrative poem of decadence, debauchery, and death (sounds like a swell party huh?), Andrew Lippa’s 2000 musical adaptation of “The Wild Party” is both completely and utterly satisfying.
For those unfamiliar with March’s poem, the plot involves a party that goes horribly wrong stacked with a bunch of zanies, misfits and lost souls. Not in a Mary Tyler Moore party-gone-wrong way. No, this one is a bit more dark and uncomfortable than that.
“The Wild Party” chronicles a fateful night at the home of Queenie (Adrienne Parker) and Burrs (Keenan McCollum). The venomous relationship between the blonde, pale sexually antipathetic vaudeville dancer, and her boyfriend, a cold and callous vaudeville clown, is fraught with violence and jealous rages.
The morning after a particularly nasty alcohol- fueled row, Queenie, “Out of the Blue,” demands that the two throw a party and invite their fellow friends and performers — folks who are just as promiscuous, uninhibited, and violent as they are. Yeah, the best kind of guests for a party.
When Queenie’s close friend and rival Kate (Kelly Sienkiewicz) arrives with her latest conquest, a man named Black (Francesco C. Archina), Queenie decides to needle Burrs by flirting with Kate’s new find — a plan which Kate heartily supports as she has had eyes for Burrs.
As the booze flows, the evening spirals toward intoxicated excess and carnal indulgence, and the party turns into a drunken orgy. When Burrs finds Queenie and Black together in bed, he pulls a gun. That’ll kill a party. I cautioned it was a bit dark. That never happened at one of Mary’s parties.
March’s poem, full of wild rhythm patterns, erratic rhymes, discord and one word interjectives, is infused with such energy; it forcefully propels the reader to its spectacular and inevitable climax. This musical doesn’t quite do that, but it comes mighty close.
As befits its source material, Lippa’s musical is challenging fare. The score, peppered with ballads, duets and quartets, is rich with melody and fractured emotions and well placed comic songs. All the musical moments are handled adroitly by the exceptionally talented SLOC cast under Daniel Galliher’s outstanding musical direction. The four leads — Parker, McCollum, Sienkiewicz and Archina — are all top notch.
Parker wonderfully balances Queenie’s blonde ambition with her fluctuating feelings of vulnerability and fear. Parker gets the evening rocking with the rousing “Raise the Roof” and her duets with Archina, who has a fine baritone voice, are touched with just the right amount of want and apprehension.
Sienkiewicz’s sass and brass are a sharp and welcome contrast to Parker and the scenes between the two crackle and spark, just as they should. Her arrival to the party with “Look at Me Now” was electric, and she tops that splendidly with a stunning “The Life of the Party” at the top of act two.
McCollum impresses as he swings between Burrs’ malevolent brood and bubbling violence, and sweet-voiced juvenile who longs just to be loved. The actor’s second act breakdown (with Parker and Archina) “Make Me Happy” is the evening’s best and most thrilling moment.
As for the other “guests,” they have their moments too. Elizabeth Corey’s deadpan delivery of “An Old Fashioned Love Story” — a hysterical lament of a lovelorn lesbian — nearly stops the show cold.
James W. Alexander, as Burrs’ pugilist pal Eddie and Emily Mack Hass Eddie’s “goile” Mae turn the song and dance describing their love “Two of a Kind” into a knockout.
Benjamin Hitrick and Cody Logan as the brothers D’Armano are enigmatically engaging. And Spencer Lee as the mute dancer Jackie offers a stunning after midnight dance fantasy.
The entire production is wonderfully staged by director Brian Clemente, who artfully manages to balance bleakness with comedy. Kudos to choreographer Carolyn Frantz, who keeps the party hopping with just the right amount of fevered frenzy.
Granted, this party is not for everyone. The punch has been spiked, there is not a speck of food to be seen, and there is probably broken glass in the loo. Its adult, its brutal, its caustic and it’s a smashing good time. Perhaps Mary could take some party pointers from Queenie and Burr? Recommended. Highly.
“The Wild Party”
WHERE: Schenectady Light Opera Company. Schenectady
WHEN: Through Jan. 27, 2019
HOW MUCH: $22 – $ 28
MORE INFO: 877-350-7378