Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party is a modern musical based on the narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March. The story focuses on a show business couple living in a booze-filled Manhattan apartment during the prohibition era. A love square develops during a party thrown by the central couple, which quickly descends into debauchery, adultery, and violence.
HE SAID: After Gravity Defied’s fundraiser preview for this production (critique here) I was thoroughly excited to finally see whether or not those impressive yet disconnected segments of the show would translate to a full scale production. Well, I am happy to say that there was nothing lost in translation. As with the preview, the real strength in this show is the group sound, from robust group numbers to the well-blended male choral parts in the opening number to the tight 3 and 4 part portions of “Make Me Happy” and “Poor Child,” all of the harmonies in this show were breathtaking.
SHE SAID: I totally agree! Several of the musical high points literally made me gasp. In addition to the group moments mentioned above, I particularly remember a few striking solo moments provided by Liz Bollar as Kate and Aaron Conklin as Black. The ensemble not only sounded great — they were dressed in lingerie and fitted 20’s-style attire for the entire production, and they all looked appropriately sultry and wild. Their confidence, enthusiasm, and dedication to the production was palpable throughout and made the entire evening pulse with a rare and infectious energy.
HE SAID: As strong as the ensemble is, the show really circles around the four leads: Queenie, Burrs, Kate, and Black – all of whom had really high highs and a few not so high moments. Keith Rabin Jr. as Burrs overplayed the height of his character’s drunken stupor a bit, but he really nailed some of the emotionally intense moments and I loved him in “Let Me Drown.” Even though Black needs to stand in contrast to the abusive Burrs, I wanted to see Aaron Conklin be a little more macho. That said, his voice, with its incredibly smooth tone, was impeccable throughout the show. Erica Vlahinos might be a smidge too young at 18 to play a fully realized Queenie, but she did a wondeful job climbing that mountain of a role and her vocals in “Out of the Blue” were flawless. Liz Bollar as Kate had a voice that easily filled the whole theatre and wowed the audience with every solo, but I wanted to feel her desires and motivations a little more intensely.
SHE SAID: I was also impressed with Erica Vlahinos as Queenie. Her voice was strong, always on pitch, and had a really unique quality — I’ve never heard anyone sing just like her, which is remarkable for her to have developed at such a young age. With more training her acting performance will certainly become more complex, but she certainly nailed the confident innocence that is Queenie’s most powerful gift. Aaron Conklin had my favorite overall vocal performance of the night, and as soon as he can fully inject into his character’s physicality the confidence and nuance that he shows when singing, he’ll be the next Broadway/Hollywood heartthrob. Those portraying the supporting characters showed a range, from incredibly strong (like Erica Tristler as Madam True) to enjoyable but somewhat over-done.
HE SAID: As talented as this cast is, they are only part of what makes the show a success. The multi-level set design (complete with period-appropriate details) was impressive for a smaller theatre company. The mic quality was arguably the best I have ever heard in a community theatre show, which is usually so terrible it detracts from the show. But the strongest “production element” was Director/Choreographer Danny Harrigan, who really infused the overlying sensuality into all of the staging and dance sequences. This is not any easy show and his passion for his cast, this show, and theatre can be felt in every moment.
SHE SAID: I agree that Harrigan did a good job integrating the (sinfully sexy) ensemble into an intimate show. Unfortunately, many of these moments were obscured by very dim lighting, so dim that the lights didn’t always succeed at directing the audience’s attention. I assumed that this was a choice, to approximate the darkest, seediest corners of the wildest parties, but at times I was surprised when a new character began to sing because no light shift alerted me to the change. Additionally, some of the dance numbers were lit at a level that I’m used to associating with scene changes, which was a shame because they were quite well-choreographed!
THEY SAID: This is the regional premiere of Lippa’s The Wild Party, so chances are that most people in the Denver area haven’t seen this show. That alone makes it easy to recommend that every adult go get tickets right away. Add on top of that an excellent cast with superb vocal talent, lead by four terrific principles and the sensual choreography and passionate direction of Danny Harrigan and we insist that every adult make plans to see this show immediately. Gravity Defied theatre may be relatively new, but with Lippa’s The Wild Party they make a strong case for why they deserve a permanent place in the Denver theatre scene.
For a synopsis of the show’s plot (spoilers!), click here.
This show is not suitable for all ages. Parental discretion advised.
“The Wild Party” plays at The Aurora Fox Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 4pm until August 22nd.