The Wild Party
The Other Palace
20 February 2017
Upon its publication in 1928, Joseph Moncure March’s narrative poem ‘The Wild Party’ was banned due to its story of a lewd soiree, hosted by Vaudevillian showgirl Queenie and her abusive lover Burrs. In 2000, Michael John LaChiusa’s musical adaptation made its Broadway debut and now it premieres at (and celebrates the grand opening of) The Other Palace theatre, previously known as St James.
‘The Wild Party’ buzzes with dark sass and impending corruption, and storylines carry interesting prejudicial debates which is something Michael John LaChiusa said he feels ‘compelled to address and question.’ Performed by a golden cast, a set of manipulative and highly conceited characters are portrayed. The piece doesn’t boast a convoluted or streamlined tale, but plays out the personalities of the party guests who drown themselves in alcohol amidst 1920’s prohibition, and whose phoney facades are worn away as the story unfolds. At first, I wasn’t hooked; so much happens simultaneously that, even though it is exciting, it becomes quite intense, and my head span like the morning after a party at Gatsby’s. It is only at the end of the first act when things really start to heat up and swing into focus, as the company performs the number ‘Gin’, with Burrs standing in a bathtub of liquor singing lead vocals, surrounded by intoxicated partiers who have de-robed their conscience to involve themselves in lustful debauchery. At this point, I longed for a feather in my hair, to drink a bottle of champagne too fast and to play my part in the gritty debacle.
John Owen-Jones (known for his roles as the heroic Jean Valjean and enigmatic Phantom of the Opera) is a tormented Burrs, driven to violence by Queenie’s promiscuity. His voice is flawless and his aggressive outburst of ‘How Many Women in the World’ – faultless. Frances Ruffelle, ‘Les Miserable’s’ original Eponine, brings a sense of fragility and inelegance to Queenie, which works well for a character on the brink of self-destruction.
Gloria Obianyo and Genesis Lynca completely engulf the D’Armarno ‘Brothers’ duo by obeying Drew McOnie’s direction. I actually forgot that it was two women playing gender opposites, making the short moment of a topless ‘brother’ extremely poignant, and emphasising society’s ability to quash certain groups of people.
Victoria Hamilton-Barritt plays Kate with striking attitude and has a voice perfectly sculpted for rock and jazz; the smokey rock lull which I so craved after seeing her perform in ‘Murder Ballad’ is on top form and her performance of ‘Black is a Moocher’ is devourable. Hamilton-Barritt’s bluesy blend lends itself to both LaChiusa’s score and Theo Jamieson’s orchestration, oozing into the jazz pastiche like hot butter.
Overall, it is the creative team who are the true stars of this show, especially that of director and choreographer Drew McOnie with his intense and busy staging and suave yet erratic routines; McOnie evidently has a unique vision and has the piece cleverly mapped out as there is never a corner of the stage left empty, but occupied by action, a flirtatious encounter or an intoxicated cigarette kiss. Richard Howell’s lighting design is stylishly classic and Theo Jamieson’s arrangement is brilliantly vibrant and carries a bouncing sense of spontaneity.
Whilst ‘The Wild Party’s’ fast pace keeps the piece in rhythm and avoids any lags, there were times when I didn’t know where to rest my attention. I’m sure I must have missed something because I feel as if I should have fallen in love with it. Despite this, I am in awe of the orchestra and the cast who have a contagious buzz. The name ‘Drew McOnie’ is etched on my mind as a powerful director and exciting choreographer, and I truly anticipate his future work.
Michael John LaChiusa’s ‘The Wild Party’ plays at The Other Palace until 1st April 2017.