Dare to Defy Productions terrifically explores the brutal depths of an extremely complicated relationship in its vibrant and sexy presentation of Andrew Lippa’s 2000 off-Broadway musical “The Wild Party,” adapted from Joseph Moncure March’s 1928 narrative poem of the same name and staged inside the Mathile Theatre of the Schuster Center.
In this Prohibition-era New York tale, Queenie, a sultry dancer, and Burrs, a vaudeville comedian, are dangerous, abusive lovers who have reached an emotional breaking point but can’t bear to live without each other. It’s a messy game, a vicious cycle, which worsens when Queenie asks Burrs to co-host a decadent party in their Manhattan apartment, ultimately exposing him for the louse he is in front of their eccentric friends. But situations take an unexpected turn when Queenie’s self-absorbed, drug-addicted best friend Kate arrives with the mysterious Black who falls hard for Queenie. As Queenie discovers a new soulmate in Black, and Kate attempts to ignite a spark with Burrs, the rowdy festivities tragically spiral out of control.
Lippa received a Tony Award nomination for his 2010 score of “The Addams Family,” but his best work thus far rests here with his tuneful array of vivid character numbers and ensemble-driven delights skillfully secured by music director Lorri Topping’s fine orchestra. In particular, Queenie and Burrs’ songs are engagingly introspective (“Out of the Blue,” “Maybe I Like It This Way,” “What is It About Her?,” “How Did We Come to This”) which enjoyably contrasts spirited anthems such as “Raise the Roof,” “A Wild, Wild Party,” and “Let Me Drown.” As librettist, Lippa’s work isn’t as sharp (some of the minor characters are either underwritten or underwhelming), but his firm, fully fleshed portraits of the two key couples effectively fuels passion and suspense as the dramatic action swells.
Director Mackensie King, guiding a cast of 15, absolutely ensures this party is indeed wild. Taking a cue from Queenie and Kate’s pact to approach the evening with “no limits, no boundaries, no compromise,” King amps up the gaiety, mayhem and danger by seating the audience on three sides for complete, impactful effect. Refreshingly, the audience is treated as intimate participants instead of mere observers. Trust me, when the cast sheds their clothes in Act 2 you might as well forget about your ideas of a comfort zone. Furthermore, choreographer Lisa Glover’s outstandingly vivacious and athletic choreography, filled with a fun, Jazz Age flapper essence and shades of Bob Fosse, works in tandem with King’s vision to splendidly heighten the show’s cheeky energy. My eyes were constantly drawn to nearly every movement particularly within the fascinating opening number chronicling Queenie and Burrs’ history (“Queenie Was a Blonde”) as well as the ensemble standouts “What a Party,” “Raise the Roof,” “The Juggernaut,” and “A Wild, Wild Party.” She also strikingly acts and dances the role of Nadine, a young girl who somehow finds her way into these debauched proceedings. Based on Glover’s fantastic contributions, I feel the urge to predict she will lead and choreograph “Sweet Charity” locally or elsewhere one of these days.
King’s cast is led by the appealing, credibly cohesive duo of Natalie Sanders and Zach King. Sanders, a vocal powerhouse, weaves a beautifully complex arc reiterating Queenie’s mind-boggling battle of being simultaneously disgusted by Burrs yet compelled by his charms. King, impressively expanding the breadth of his abilities, intensely attacks with intimidation and unsettling volatility befitting Burrs’ alarmingly unstable behavior. As Black, strong tenor Desmond Thomas is more sweetly sensitive than suavely seductive, but his chemistry with Sanders poignantly evolves in his heartfelt rendition of “I’ll Be Here.” As the feisty Kate, Laura Ellen Moore lacks full-throttle ferocity (her flashy introductory solo “Look At Me Now” is especially weak) but her vulnerability throughout is a plus. A.J. Breslin (mostly shirtless as knucklehead boxer Eddie) and Hayley Penchoff (ditzy Mae) are adorably spotlighted in “Two of a Kind.” As lesbian Madeline True, Samantha Creech winningly shares her longing for “An Old-Fashioned Love Story.” The flamboyance of Jeffrey Mack (Oscar D’Armano) and Brennan Paulin (Phil D’Armano) propels the comedy within “A Wild, Wild Party.” André Tomlinson (the mute Jackie) partners with Glover for a haunting take on “Jackie’s Last Dance” reflecting Queenie and Burrs’ destructive core. The cast includes Thomas Cole Schreier (Sam), Danielle Kubasky (Dolores), Jamal Caan (Max), and Amanda Carter (Daisy). King’s artistic team includes scenic designer Ray Zupp and lighting designer Derek Dunavent.
If you’re in the mood to let loose, don’t miss this daring, edgy showcase.
“The Wild Party” concludes today at 2 and 8 p.m. inside the Mathile Theatre of the Schuster Center, Second and Main Streets, Dayton. Act One: 70 minutes; Act Two: 45 minutes. Tickets are $21.50. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com. Patrons are advised the show contains adult content.