“Queenie was a blonde and her age stood still,/And she danced twice a day in vaudeville.”
With those hardboiled, magical words, Joseph Moncure March’s 1928 Jazz Age poem “The Wild Party” begins, as does Andrew Lippa’s darkly glittering musical adaptation.
Iron Crow, Baltimore’s professional GLBTQ theater ensemble, has taken on the ambitious task of staging The Wild Party¸ live orchestra, large cast, challenging material and all. Director Sean Elias shifts the show’s perspective to what he calls “sense of queerness,” and the result removes the period piece limitations, giving the production a tingling freedom and daring.
The set and costumes are not specific to the Roaring Twenties, with Ryan Haase’s set a dreamlike, purplish evocation of an apartment-turned-sex parlor, with lots of mauve velvet banquettes and other plush surfaces for canoodling—not to mention a toilet and a mussed bed, which get hard use throughout. Betty O’Hellno’s (best burlesque name EVER) costumes naughtily combine black leather, corsets (on both sexes) and lace with suggestions of Jazz Age chemises and evening dress.
The sexuality in this production is fluid, with the characters flirting and indulging in all sorts of configurations—flesh and proximity being the main attraction, not specific gender.
Even the heroine, Queenie (the gleaming Allison Bradbury), caught in a love triangle between her brute lover Burrs (Justin Michael Mazzella, darkly menacing and in fine voice) and a fascinating stranger at the party, an uptown swell named Black (the big-voiced Sylvern Groomes, Jr.), seems more than willing to rub more than elbows with her female guests.
There’s an air of anything goes at Queenie and Burrs’ party to end all parties, as the guests slink, smoke and lounge around drinking hooch and taking drugs. “No limits, no boundaries, no retreat!” is a refrain shouted with defiance and abandon by the various partygoers.
The mostly young cast has wavering degrees of comfort strutting around the stage in various states of undress, and the tentative ones signal their distress by constantly tugging or futzing at their costumes to the point where you want to jump up onstage and offer them a robe, which sends a conflicting message to the audience about a group of people who are supposed to be libertine, sexual omnivores. Or maybe their costumes don’t fit right and don’t make the actors feel safe. Whatever the reason, it is enormously distracting.
The cast displays similar levels of ease with the sexuality and portraying lust and heat. The caresses, entangled limbs and arched backs are there and everybody looks scorching hot, but not a lot of heat is generated until the, ahem, climactic orgy scene in Act Two, where the male cast members in particular go to town with carnal relish.
The Wild Party
closes October 9, 2016
Details and tickets
Lippa’s score is a pastiche of jittery jazz, gospel, torch songs and a sprinkling of traditional show tunes and this erratic quality enforces The Wild Party’s theme of recklessness. Standout numbers include “Look at Me Now” and “Life of the Party,” performed with confidence and showgirl sass by Jessica Bennett, as Kate, Queenie’s rival in vamp and Burrs’ affections.
The ensemble singing and dancing is terrific, especially in the ecstatic rhythms of “Raise the Roof,” “A Wild, Wild Party” and “The Juggernaut.” Solo standouts include Valerie Holt delivering “An Old Fashioned Lesbian Love Story” with butch bravado.
As Queenie, Allison Bradbury looks every inch the incandescent jazz baby, her body readily accessible and on display, but herself somehow unapproachable. After a shaky start, Bradbury comes into her own as the beautiful, deadly moll, shown in the jaded resignation of “Maybe I Like It This Way” and the orgiastic “Come with Me.” Justin Mazzella is the ultimate bad boy, creepy and no good, but irresistible, especially when showing his pain in “What Is It About Her” and the gospel-y “Let Me Drown.”
Iron Crow’s The Wild Party comes on strong, and even a few glitches (let’s get those sound problems resolved) cannot detract from its uninhibited allure.
The Wild Party by Andrew Lippa . Director: Sean Elias . Featuring: Scean Aaron, Allison Bradbury, Jessica Bennett, Adam Cooley, Kathryne Daniels, Terrance Fleming, Fred Fletcher-Jackson, Nick Fruit, Sylvern Groomes Jr., Brice Guerriere, Rose Hahn, Valerie Holt, Jesse Marciniak, Justin Michael Mazzella, Emily Small . Music Director: Ben Shaver. Choreographer: Robert Mintz. Costume Designer: Betty O’Hellno. Set Designer: Ryan Haase. Lighting Designer: Janine Vreatt. Sound Designer: Chris Aldrich. Stage Manager: Ambre Tirehote . Produced by Iron Crow Theatre . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.