By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission
It certainly was a different time, the 1920s. Before social media, before computers, before logging on, people had to find other ways of connecting and connect they did. People had planned parties and sometimes the connection was good, sometimes it was bad, but it was a personal connection. People talked face to face and sometimes even danced in a living room of a small one bedroom apartment. We get a little glimpse of this bygone era in Greenbelt Arts Center’s latest offering, The Wild Party (Book, Music, & Lyrics by Andrew Lippa) with Direction by Jeffery Lesniak, Music Direction by Elizabeth Alfort, and Choreography by Rikki Howie Lacewell.
In a nutshell, The Wild Party concerns itself with Queenie and Burrs, two volatile lovers who throw the party of parties in their Manhattan apartment. The guest list is diverse with many living on the fringes of society and Queenie takes a fancy to a newcomer, Mr. Black. Burrs’ jealousy is tested and his rage overcomes him and those around him. The booze is flowing, the music is hot, steamrolling us towards an intense conflict where guns are a-blazing, but… who’s been shot?
I must say, The Wild Party, though revered and loved by many, is really not my cup of tea. I don’t hate it per say, or even dislike it, but I certainly have to be in the mood for it. However, this particular production kept me engaged and entertained the entire time. It’s a heavy piece of theatre, raw, raunchy, and dark, but this production hit the nail on the head in its presentation. The actors know their characters and objectives and are able to take us through the story seamlessly making for an intensely entertaining evening of theatre.
A Set Designer is not mentioned, but it’s worth saying whomever is responsible for this design knows this intimate space well and has managed to create a small apartment with suggestions of different rooms with simple furniture pieces and levels. It’s neutral and homey and is just right for this production. Kudos, whoever you are, on a splendid Set Design.
Costuming a period piece, and this is definitely a period piece, can be daunting, but Costume Design by Rikki Lacewell and Shemika Berry show no signs of an issue. Each character, especially the ladies, are dressed to the nines in 1920s fashions and each look is natural and authentic. Even the gentlemen, who can usually just find a nice suit and tie to wear has an air of the 1920s style and the entire plot works fabulously adding great value to the production. Kudos to Lacewell and Berry for jobs very well done.
Rikki Howie Lacewell takes on double duty as Costume Designer and Choreographer and, if I had any slight criticism, it would be in the choreography. Now, this isn’t the sole fault of Lacewell as the space is a floor level thrust with quite a few obstruction points, albeit small obstructions. This is quite a challenge for any production, and, I can imagine, quite challenging for any choreographer. With dance being such a large part of the culture of the 20s (we weren’t chained to our smart phones or TV, so we had to find something to do!) there are many high points in the choreography, but, most of it lays a little flat for me. A lot of unison group movement, pockets of dancing, but nothing really caught my attention. Now, that’s not to say there weren’t some great numbers. For example, “Raise the Roof” and “A Wild, Wild Party” are two numbers that stick out simply because of the energy and variety in the choreography so, overall, the movement is entertaining and Lacewell is to be commended for her work on this production.
Most of this music is of the time and jazz was king so, just like Choreography, music can be tricky. However, Music Direction by Elizabeth Alford is absolutely on point. She takes this score and presents it beautifully with this cast and orchestra completely nailing the style of this jazzy score. There’s not a lot of fluff in this score and Alford takes the reigns and keeps it in check. Alford should be applauded and commended for her work with this challenging piece.
A special shout out to the orchestra for their efforts as well! This orchestra consists of Elizabeth Alford (Piano/Conductor); David Booth, Phil Cannon, Stan Potter (Reeds); Earl Smith (Trumpet); Tyler Golsen (Guitar); Chip Racster (Bass); and Larissa Hannon (Drums). Job well done ladies and gentlemen!
Continuing with the challenging material, Direction by Jeffery Lesniak is spot on and there’s no other way to state it. His vision is clear and his staging is brave, raw, and his instincts are honed for this piece. There is a disclaimer of partial nudity and other adult themes and, boy, they ain’t kidding! But I’m glad that Lesniak and Greenbelt Arts Center have not watered this piece down because I don’t think it would have worked as well. The Wild Party needs the girt and dirt. It needs the raunch and rage, and Lesniak has left it in to flourish. He has a tight grasp of this material and what it means and he keeps it chaotically controlled with his superb staging making for an absolutely wonderful piece of theatre. A special mention should be made Intimacy Consultant Stephanie Davis as she had her work cut out for her with this one. However, each intimate scene comes off without a hitch and is not forced but natural and in sync.
Moving to the performance aspect of this production, it’s worth saying this entire ensemble puts 100% effort into their work. It’s a nice sized cast and everyone is working in tandem and knows his or her character. Special nod to Judah Canizares and Jessie Duggan who portray odd coupled Eddie and Mae, as their characters, for the most part, break up the drama with a bit of comedy and they are charming in their featured number “Two of a Kind,” which they perform confidently and beautifully.
To mention a few featured performers, along side this stupendous ensemble we have Brian Dauglash who takes on the role of Black and Melanie Kurstin, who tackles the complex role of Kate. Both of these apt and able actors embody these characters and take them to the next level. Dauglash pulls off the suave, but caring Black in a way that you are rooting for him the entire time while you can’t help but feel pity and sorrow for Kate in the way Kurstin portrays her. Vocally, both of these performers are dynamos and make one stand up and take notice. Dauglash has a smooth baritone that resonates throughout the theatre and he shines is such featured numbers as “Poor Child,” “Of All the Luck,” and the poignant, “I’ll Be Here.” Likewise, Kurstin knocks it out of the park with her renditions of featured numbers like the upbeat, energized “Look At Me Now” and second act opener, “Life of the Party.” Dauglash and Kurstin know these characters well and have a deep understanding of their roles making them absolute highlights in this production.
Rounding out this ensemble are standouts Matty Montes as Burrs and Lindsey Litka as Queenie. I can confidently say, it seems these two were born to play these parts.
Montes, who becomes this character, Burrs, uses just the right amount of sleaziness and rage to portray this troubled, unstable character. His intensity is instinctive and every movement is calculated but natural and, vocally, this man is a powerhouse with an impressive range. He effortlessly vocalized through his featured numbers such as “What is it About Her?” and “Let Me Drown.” He’s comfortable in this multifaceted role and this makes this character easier to swallow. His ability to bring high emotion to every song is impeccable and his consistency with his character makes for a strong, confident performance that is not to be missed.
Watching Litka’s performance is worth the price of admission. She delves deep to get to the nitty-gritty of this character, and it pays off in her portrayal. From the moment she walks onto the stage, she is Queenie and her character is consistent throughout. She comfortable with this part and though the role requires a cracked moral code, Litka seems to bring out the innocence and delicacy of this hard woman. She gives a brave, no nonsense performance that makes her a standout. Vocally, Litka gives a solid, powerful showing with a stunning voice that fills the theatre. Her stylings of high energy “Raise the Roof,” the somber, “Maybe I Like it This Way,” and the heartbreaking “How Did It Come to This” show her range and ability to not only sing, but act out a song that makes for a smashing performance overall.
Final thought… The Wild Party at Greenbelt Arts Center is not a show you want to miss this season. For a show that I have to be in the mood for, this production has changed my tune. I was able to see nuances I missed before and I appreciate it even more than I did in the past and that’s what impressed me so much. The staging is on point, the vocals are superb, and the story is thought provoking. I admit, I’m all about the song-and-dance, fluffy, happy-ending shows and this show doesn’t have much of that, BUT… it is engaging and intense which and I’m glad for the experience. Get your tickets now. Seriously.
This is what I thought of Greenbelt Arts Center’s The Wild Party… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
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