Based on Joseph Moncure March’s 1928 long narrative poem, THE WILD PARTY takes the audience back to the 1920s, a time of sizzling jazz, love and longing, lawlessness and lust, risk and revenge, and people living on the edge. Sound familiar? Just as the Spanish flu of 1918 cut a terrifying swath through people’s lives and culminated in “the Roaring 20s, so too has COVID-19 made an indelible mark on society – perhaps culminating in a second “Roaring 20s?” Given the intriguing parallels separated by 100 years, THE WILD PARTY seems surprisingly timely.
With book, music, and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, THE WILD PARTY won the 2000 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music, the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical, the Lucille Lortel Awards for Scenic, Costume, and Lighting Design, and the 1999-2000 Obie Award for Best Choreography. Director Kristin Towers-Rowles described the 1920s as “raw, divided, fearful, and lawless…people being more public about gender identity and sexuality…(including) universal themes like abuse, revenge, loss, and the rocky path to redemption….misogyny and racism as well as society’s insatiable thirst for youth.” Let’s not forget that March’s THE WILD PARTY was highly controversial in its time and even banned.
Discontented Queenie (Serenity Robb) and Burrs (Hamilton Davis) finally find each other, a sensual match made in heaven. But – after four years – the two are getting on each other’s nerves; and boredom is setting in. What to do? Queenie has a terrific idea. Why not have a party, a wild party, for all their friends and acquaintances? And maybe provide a place for Queenie to cultivate some brand new intimate friends? But, like many initially great ideas, this fatally flawed plan may backfire. The party brings together a motley crew of misfits, rebels, and just plain confused folks who don’t know which direction is up – as copious liquor and drugs make the rounds. When Kate (Kaitlin Doughty) wanders in with her pick of the evening, Mr. Black (Deonte Allen), chemistry starts to sizzle between Queenie and Mr. Black while Burrs looks on with jealousy-stoked rage. Expect lots of sexy underwear and groping as the party really gets going.
THE WILD PARTY is a sung-through musical which tells its story in music with almost no spoken dialog. Music styles range from lyrical and atonal to jazz and opera. Each song carries the tale a little further along emotionally and plot-wise. Kristin Towers-Rowles helms the show with an eye to its historic context, as well as to the universality of many themes. The cast is called upon to sing, dance, and emote with the best of them. The production team has fun creating the Roaring 20s (set designer Yelena Babinskaya; scenic artist Orlando de la Paz; costume designer Michael Mullen; hair/wigs by Alejandro Bermudez and Jon Sparks; lighting by Mario Espinoza, sound by Cody Holmes). And let’s not forget Michael Marchak’s choreography inspired by the original production.
THE WILD PARTY may be an acquired taste, in that its dark message is sometimes hard to take. At the same time, this is an intriguing view of the Roaring 20s, a time of barely controlled hysteria and exploration in every sense of the word. Besides, the question remains: are we currently entering the Roaring 20’s a second time?
THE WILD PARTY runs through October 9, 2022, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Morgan-Wixson Theatre is located at 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90405. Tickets are $30 (students/military $23; seniors $26). For information and reservations, call 310-828-7519 or go online.