Monday, April 9, 2012

Full of Pizazz, Jazz and Sazz: The Footlight Club Presents "The Wild Party"

Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party

Music, Lyrics and Book by Andrew Lippa

Based on a poem by Joseph Moncure March
Directed & Choreographed by Chad Flahive
Musical Directon by Mario Cruz

The Prohibition Era during the 1920s has often been a fascinating topic of discussion. It has been a part of our history that has been romanticized in all forms of media due to the decadent and care-free nature of fast living. On the flip side, we have also seen the dark side of this kind of living and how it affected the ones who truly embraced this era and its tempting offerings. "The Wild Party" is a musical that dives headfirst into this world, and gives us a sense of how sleazy and destructive this era was. Despite the negative, there is no denying its jazzy music and "wild" partiers gave us a different view on how to truly live, throwing regrets and doubts to the wind. This is the second version of this musical, the original written by Michael John LaChiusa, and it shares similarities with its predecessor, but examines and expands on some plot and character elements. The Footlight Club is currently running their production of "The Wild Party", so it was worth checking out to see how they presented this particular show.

"The Wild Party" takes us into the lives of Queenie, a show girl, and Burrs, a clown. Immediately attracted to each other due to their similar sleazy ways, we see them fall into crazy, fast and a lustful embrace and burning love, soon moving into an apartment together in Manhattan. However, after years of distrust and boredom, the feelings start to wear and tear. To top it off, Burrs become more violent and abusive towards Queenie. This sparks desire in Queenie to throw a party with all their friends to humiliate him, having enough of what he has been dishing out. With all their friends from all walks of life present, plus throwing into the mix Queenie's frenemy/rival Kate and her current beau, Mr. Black, the night is full of possibilities. Queenie and Mr. Black are immediately attracted to each other and Burrs is left to be tempted by Kate. Clearly, this is volatile situation.

"The Wild Party" is a show that is very dance heavy. Opening with a long and drawn-out exposition with dance and the song "Queenie Was a Blonde" we are given a taste of what's to come in movement and score. The songs and harmonies are complex, presenting great brassy, jazzy tunes. Reminiscent of the Jazz greats and a bit of show tune flair, the music is a lot of fun. However, it seemed like there was a bit of filler songs in the show. Eddie, a prizefighter and his wife Mae, give us a cute number, "Two of a Kind". It’s nice to see a non-destructive relationship for a change, but it feels out of place, overshadowed by the heavy group numbers. The amount of dance is a lot as well, as mentioned, but only because the score demands it. Can there be too much dance in a musical? Probably, especially when it’s the only driving force in the show and it dominates the story. It almost seems like dancing was used to hide the fact that the story was already stretched thin. Even being based on long and narrative poem, the fact that all the action takes place over the course of one night is extremely exhausting. It feels drawn out. Many characters and plots are introduced, but they stand in the foreground until it’s acceptable to use them, either for unusual or comic effect. They don't necessarily move the plot forward, but seem to only exist when it’s convenient.

Todd Yard's wonderful performance as Burrs was full of powerful angst, frustration and desperation that became a sight to behold. He gave a fantastic turn as a man who is grasping for a former time where things were simpler. He dominated the stage with his charismatic presence and wondrous voice. His rendition of "Let Me Drown" was the showstopper of the night and he carried it to a whole new level, with over-shot confidence and underlying desperation that were constantly battling each other. His escalation was remarkable. Taryn Cagnina's performance as Kate was flashy and sharp, boiling over with such cavalier confidence and sly manipulation. It was extremely enjoyable to watch, as we could not help but love her and love her some more. Her pipes soared and erupted with gusto with "Life of the Party", a testament that Cagnina's voice talent was another strong asset, along with her excellent creation of such a sassy character. Rebekah Turner's Queenie had a memorable and great voice, and a created a subtle calmness despite everything that was happening around her, but her connection with Burrs falls short. Even during their time together before everything went down, her chemistry with Yard is not as strong as it could be. The relationship felt very one sided, even before their trysts. By herself, her detachment is evident and is relatable, as it is captured extremely well, but it hardly goes beyond her one level. When it does, it almost could be more, reaching a point of serenity. When she first is introduced, very little about her captivates as much as it needs to in order carry the story. Nate Haywood’s Mr. Black gives a good performance as a sweet-natured and confident young man. He is soothing in voice and in presence, but we see no real depth with him, especially when some situations present opportunities, specifically with Kate and the others. His interaction and infatuation with Queenie is obvious, but the two share very little chemistry. There is little reason it seems for the two to be interested in each other. The ensemble gives a strong performance with plenty of sass and pizazz, as they never bat an eye when it comes to their choreography, interaction and movement. They were impressively in sync and deserve much praise for carrying on through such dance demanding show. There were moments where some numbers were more energetic than others and it felt like they were going through the motions, but again, with so much dance, everything seemed so exhaustive, which is understandable. The numbers that stood out as great pieces were "Raise the Roof" and "A Wild, Wild Party." Both had several helpings of sharp movement and excellent execution. As individuals, each stood out with such a great establishment of a silly, ridiculous or engaging character, and sometimes, without realizing, they end up stealing a scene. As a whole, everyone in this production gave solid performances across the board and was a truly talented bunch.

Chad Falhive's directing duties were split with choreography duties. He pulls off a well-staged setting for everyone, keeping the interaction between all consistent and a bit on the cramped side, which worked very well for this show. The apartment is meant to be small and Falhive gives us a nice little view into this world and era, almost creating confinement and escapism in one swoop. His choreography is seemingly complex at times, almost Fosse-esque, which is a given, considering the nature and era of this show. It seemed a bit much at times, even though the score demanded it, like more of a balance between stylized movement and choreography should have been enabled. Brian Crete's set was wonderfully dingy and simple, which worked extremely well. The muted colors, high walls and odd paintings on were nice touches, giving an almost twisted version of this reality, a reflection of what was happening. He knows how to create a specific world. The lighting design by Paul O'Shaughnessy and Coco Coviello also stood out as another great aspect of the production. The usage of so many colors really brought an interesting flavor to everything. There was a fantastic use of smoky lights used as well, and it created a cabaret/speakeasy feel, furthering the idea that this world is forever shrouded and hiding from everything else. We were not just a part of this story, but we were seeing the bigger picture. The combined efforts of the tech and direction brought forth, again, an underlying environment of escapism and at the same time a confinement for the people in the story.

Again, the show presented itself as a true musical; full of dance, music and a world for all of us to experience. The length was probably like any another show but again, it seemed like the dance was almost used to mask the fact that there was a stretched a story. It overshadowed much of the production as a whole. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but when slow action and a stretched plot are present but are dominated by a lot of dancing, it’s hard to view and invent in what’s happening. However, it is not a reflection on the specific production in question. The Footlight Club presented solid production of "The Wild Party". The era that was presented on stage seemed like the ultimate form escapism, a time where nothing mattered and losing yourself was the easiest thing to deal with. The show was this world, as well as challenging, musically and movement wise, and everyone, cast and crew alike, each showed the amount of work and effort that was put in to create such a large, brassy, decadent, dark, and sassy production. Kudos to the Footlight Club again for creating a fun and enjoyable theatrical experience

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