One hot night


The Wild Party


Book, music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa

Directed by Neal J. Freeman

The Gallery Players (

199 14th Street, Brooklyn

Equity showcase (through February 24, 2008)

Review by Michael D. Jackson


In 2000, the unprecedented occurrence of two musicals based on the same source material, a book length poem titled, The Wild Party, by Joseph Moncure March, opened in New York. On Broadway the version was composed by Michael John LaChiusa and directed by George C. Wolfe. Off Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club was an entirely different take on the poem by Andrew Lippa. The Gallery Players have revived the Lippa version, giving a unique piece of musical theatre a second chance to be seen and savored.


The Wild Party is unconventional in every way, breaking the tradition of the well made musical established by Rodgers and Hammerstein. What plot exists tells the tale of an unmarried vaudeville couple living in Manhattan in the 1920s: Burrs (Jonathan Hack) and Queenie (Nicole Sterling). The pair have grown bored and antagonistic towards each other and so Queenie suggests they throw a party to spice up life. Burrs agrees and the show takes off as a character study for all the eccentric people who inhabit the party. Several plot points involving romantic and lustful trysts ensue, but the musical is really about exploring character within an impression of a 1920s milieu. Sequences appear as vignettes rather than linear storytelling. We learn little interesting bits about the many characters at the party: a homosexual composing team demonstrate their new musical, a lesbian yearns for an old fashioned romance with another woman, a mute dancing man must express his anxiety through a drunken dance, an ex-hooker vies for love with Burrs, while he tries to hang onto Queenie, who is leaving him for another guest at the party named Blackie. There is no clear moral to the story and no character learns anything that changes their lives for the better. If anything, these people will all deteriorate in a swamp of booze and sex. This musical is simply about exploration.


Director Neal J. Freeman has given the show a rudimentary staging––sometimes even staging actors at a disadvantage. Set designer Hannah Shafran has given Freeman an open palette of a basic black box with a few adornments to help define a bedroom and a bathroom. Otherwise a single row of light bulbs suggest tawdry show business. Under such simple conditions lighting should become a chief instrument in the storytelling, but John Eckert’s light design is mainly serviceable. Summer Lee Jack’s costumes do the best at defining character and ambiance for the piece as a whole. Brian Swasey’s choreography turns out to be the star of the production, for it is inventive, slick, exuberant and executed sharply by the talented ensemble. Jeffrey Campos leads a jazz combo, which produces hot and sultry sounds, finalizing the character of a production that lacks definition in other areas.


As Burrs, Hack is strong in singing voice and appropriately slimy of character. Nicole Sterling as a long and tall Queenie looks spectacular in her flapper garb and sings with a clarion belt. Highlights of an overall strong ensemble are Zak Edwards as Oscar, who executes his character with manic energy and dances with an extra snap and panache. Tauren Hagans, as the lesbian Madelaine True, stops the show with “An Old-Fashioned Love Story.”  Matthew Oaks, the other great dancer of the production, gets a chance to really show his talents in “Jackie’s Last Dance,” an unusually positioned solo dance number that is rather impressive.


The show is nothing less than odd and the production has not fully realized the potential of the script. However, the experience is worth it, for the young cast is outstanding and the musical numbers are exciting. The Wild Party is bound to remain a cult favorite and a welcome change from time to time as an alternative to the classic musicals that prevail in constant revivals.


Box Score:


Writing: 2

Directing: 1

Acting: 2

Sets: 0

Costumes: 2

Lighting/Sound: 1


Copyright 2008 by Michael D. Jackson



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