SHOWING : June 12, 2009 - July 25, 2009
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The summer heats up with the wildest and most hedonistic party the city has ever seen.
Inspired by the free-flowing narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March written in 1926, this stylish and sensual musical recreates the glamour, sensuality, and decadence of Manhattan in the roaring twenties. It's just a party, but as the reckless and alluring guests arrive, seduction gives way to unbridled passion, and what began as an evening of games and titillation, ends in violence.
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Toxic Relationship Syndrome|
Monday, July 13, 2009 ||
Before dropping into my main discussion, I do have to comment that the history of “The Wild Party” is as intriguing as the story itself. Originally written as a narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March, it didn’t find a publisher until 1928. It has often been described as a thinly-fictionalized account of the party that ended Fatty Arbuckle’s career, despite the fact that, even with all the decadence on view, there is no overweight movie star and no rape, and it takes place on the opposite side of the country – apparently shallow analysis is not just a contemporary phenomenon. A 1975 movie tried to add details from the Fatty Arbuckle story, but left in March’s rhymed verse, and the result was pretty pretentious and dull. Then in 2000, two separate musical versions appeared in New York, one on Broadway with music by Michael John LaChiusa, and one off-Broadway, with music by Andrew Lippa. It is the Lippa version we’re seeing at OnStage Atlanta.|
Just for the record, I’d like to echo others’ ecstatic praise for stars Mary Nye Bennett, Marcie Millard, and Geoff Uterhardt, for director Barbara Cole Uterhardt, for choreographer Anthony Owen, and for music director Lenae Rose. Like others, I was also disappointed by the weaker “fourth wheel” Mr. Black, and would like to add that I found he had a lot of pitch problems, as did Madeleine True’s “Lesbian Love Song.” Still, these weak points were not enough to lessen the overall impact of the piece (my lower grade notwithstanding), and, the reported balance problems between orchestra and cast were apparently solved by the time I got to see the show. Additional praise must also go to set designer Anthony Owen and lighting designer Tom Gillespie, who created an apartment that felt seedy enough for us to reach out and touch the cockroaches.
For the uninitiated, the story concerns vaudevillians Queenie and Burrs, a couple for three years, now bored with each other. A descending spiral of physical and emotional cruelties lead them to throw a party, a public spectacle for them to play out their games of jealousy and humiliation, washed with an unhealthy dose of 1920’s drug-and-sex-laced decadence (you WILL need a cold shower after seeing this show). Their games take an unexpected turn when former hooker Kate brings along the unassuming Mr. Black, a kind man who sees through Queenie’s games and responds to the “virginal soul” within. Queenie finds herself attracted to him in ways that are almost healthy, that could provide a lifeline from the “Toxic Relationship Syndrome” she shares with Burrs. It all leads to an incredibly tense and violent finale.
This is what appeals to me about this story – Mr. Black’s attraction-at-first-sight wakens in Queenie a sense of her own self-destruction, a sense that she finally recognizes her addiction to edge-of-danger excitement and violent passion, a sense that there is a part of her that is still human, that is, ironically, in some ways, virginal. Sex to her has always been a game, a risk, an entertainment, a needle to the soul – for the first time, she recognizes that it may also be a lifeline, that, when coupled with actual respect and affection, it can provide even more excitement than the drug-and-danger variety she has always known. Maybe my own romantic nature is reading too much into this, that Queenie is, at heart, a thoroughly despicable character who deserves no less than she gets. But, in Ms. Bennett’s hands, I did feel sympathy for her, and, by the end of the show, I actually began to like and feel sorry for her.
Mr. Lippa underscores this theme by the song “Two of Kind,” sung by the pugilist Eddie and his diminutive Mae – these are two characters who love and accept each unconditionally, and this song provides a nice counterpoint to the cruel sorts of relationships we see in the others. We also see other characters pair up and bond, other characters whose cruelties are a pale imitation of their hosts’. And, by ending Act One with the duet of Queenie’s “Maybe I Like it This Way” and Burrs’ “What is it About Her,” he shows us that these two characters do have a need for each other (toxic as it may be), and the moment is truly sublime.
Other moments in this play that really worked for me were the big dance numbers, the group pieces “Juggernaut” and “Let me Drown,” and the smaller-scale, more wistful “Jackie’s Last Dance” in which the androgynous and mute Jackie (an outstanding Leslie Bellair) covers the entire set in an athletic and erotic expression of love and desire, all while (almost) everyone else sleeps in drunken exhaustion.
Ms. Uterhardt has blocked her large cast on her small stage to perfection, focusing our attention exactly where it needs to be, staging the fight between Eddie and Burrs realistically, and orchestrating the final moments into a tense ballet of movement, music, and violence. When Queenie belts out her final “How Did We Come to This?” it’s a breathtakingly moving moment of song and regret, that works entirely because of the fragile thread of humanity that Ms. Bennett, Ms. Uterhardt, and Mr. Lippa have skillfully woven.
This is a difficult and challenging play, one that should only be attempted by the bravest of souls. It depicts the depths to which lack-of-love toxicity can send the human spirit. But, at heart, it has a glimmer of optimism, in that it shows us (and Queenie), that what happens at the Wild Party, doesn’t necessarily have to stay at the Wild Party.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)
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| || What He Said by Mama Alma|
| I'm attaching my review as a comment to Brad's, because he says pretty much what I say, only better, and I didn't want my inferior work posting over his. So, what he said, and I'd have to agree with a 4, not a 5, and my further comments follow:|
The Wild Party is a fitting successor to OnStage's production of Urinetown last year. Big, bold, ambitious, sprawling, rambunctious, and dare I say it, raunchy, it leaves you feeling rode hard and put up wet. It's more opera than musical in its scope and subject matter. Think Phantom. Think Evita. Think Sweeney Todd. It's a huge undertaking.
Anthony Owens' choreography sets the frenetic pace from the get-go, the ensemble a kind of Greek chorus, introducing Queenie and her beau, and barreling right through to the heart-thumping "Juggernaught". Owens seems to have sprung on the scene fully grown, doing a handstand and holding sparklers in his teeth. Incredibly, he did the set as well, a jewel of multilayer transformation and rediscovery, as center stage becomes the bedroom, fades into backdrop and then blossoms into rebirth. Then, not content merely with the flashy, pounding rhythms of sexual frenzy, he turns lyrical, giving us the quiet, time-stopping ballet "Jackie's Last Dance."
High points: Marcie Millard singing "(I Want to Be the) Life of the Party": this woman doesn't just eat the scenery. She destroys it! Kristel Wunderlin is outstanding in a short aria (yes, I said aria) punctuating the libidinous soul of the piece. Cathy Hall Payne is hysterically funny singing her version of "An Old Fashioned (Lesbian) Love Story," and Jay Tyrall and Sharon Litzky are great crowd pleasers as the sweetly comic couple Eddie and Mae.
Timmonte Hood, as Black, has a velvety growl of a voice reminiscent of Nat King Cole or Mel Torme (look 'em up, kids), but he seemed to be having trouble finding his footing the night I was there. Buffeted by the great Mary Nye as Queenie and Millard's Kate fomenting small tornados in their wake, he just got lost. Not so Mr. Uterhardt (Burrs). Googie usually gets cast in the comic roles, the second bananas, but this is a man's role, and it was good to see Mr. Uterhardt with a role with some meat. He digs in, teeth gnashing. This may be his finest work yet.
In a curious piece of synchronicity, as my husband and I drove home, our radio was playing the other version of The Wild Party. OnStage's version is the darker of the two, grittier, smokier, more in tune with modern sensibilities. I'm sure that when Onstage chose to do it, they didn't foresee the extent to which the U.S. would collapse over the past nine months, but I was struck by the parallels with the current state of affairs. Queenie and Burrs were riding high: living a life fueled by drugs and sex. When their party and their lives reached their inevitable, violent conclusions, Queenie lamented that she didn't intend for things to turn out this way. Queenie's life collapses, but someone else will take her place, and the party will move on. However brutal and cynical it is, life belongs to those who survive and claim their place in the spotlight. Watch that final spot.
Monday, June 29, 2009 ||
I had the GREAT opportunity to see OnStage Atlanta's production of The Wild Party this weekend, and I have to say, this show is every bit as WILD as the title says it is. |
Let's begin by first stating that Barbara Cole-Uterhardt and her artistic company are the best things that have happened to theater in Decatur in a long time. This was the first show that I have had a chance to see at OSA in awhile (since Urinetown I guess), and just the whole look and feel of that space has changed. I loved how the transformation and preparation for entering into the decadent roaring 20's begins before you even enter the theater. With fun paintings on the wall, wine bottles and underwear strewn around, the lobby looks as if the cast "lived it up" before going on stage. I know it has little to do with the action taking place in the theater, but it did help set the mood, and shows that this new blood thinks about everything.
Once inside and seated with my glass, or should I say glasses : ), of wine I began to take in the set. Eh...I could take it or leave it. I love the way it was designed and arranged. I really enjoyed the colors, but most of the set pieces just seemed hodge-podged together from the 50's, 60's, or any decade past. I understand filling the space with all 20's items would prove a bit tedious, but it was most distracting that the ice-box looked like it was right off the set of Lassie or Leave it to Beaver. All and all, my issues with the set were VERY minor in the whole scheme of things.
I love the direction that Mrs. Utherhardt chose to take with the cast, although I do question having so many people on the stage. At times they seemed to spill off and into the audience! The dark underlying tension from the minute people stepped on stage, warned the audience that this is going to be bumpy ride. Nothing about this performance is going to be easy or light, it is going right for the jugular and not letting go until the final bow. I also really enjoyed the musical direction of both the cast and band. For the most part, all the soloists and songs are top-notch. You could find almost any of these performers singing in any of the top Atlanta venues. There were a few rhythm and tempo issues, but all that was forgiven when I found out that the pianist for the show had just joined the cast one night before. WOW.
One reason to see the show is Anthony Owen's choreography. It is so dark and distorted, broken arms, strange angles, almost as if Bob Fosse choreographed while under the influence of acid. Having said how great the choreography is, the flip side is that when you are trying to do something so twisted, that it is very hard to make it look uniform and cohesive when you have 15+ people doing it at the same time on such a small stage. It was also a little bit bizarre to see a majority of the cast dancing, and one or two people on the side lines still having a party. It did not always seem to move the story forward.
Two other technical aspects to discuss and then I will give you my take on the casting. I really enjoyed the lighting of the stage. From the chandelier mid-stage, to the blues and pinks used throughout, it really gave great accent to the scenes and the over all color-palette. I am guessing that the goal with the show's color scheme was a very heroin chic look. Lots of purples, blues, pinks, reds, browns, all reflected in make-up, costuming, lighting, and paint. The costuming, unfortunately, did not really add or distract from the show. I just kept thinking what a shame, that was really a chance to have fun with the women's dresses. It is not that I did not like them, there was nothing truly memorable about them.
The cast though, this is the bread and butter of this awesome production. This show was made for Mary Nye's AMAZING voice. It is like she is the energizer bunny, and her voice just got stronger and stronger as the show went on. The great thing about her, is that not only is the voice top-notch, but this gal has the acting chops to boot. I love Googie Uterhardt, and think that he is a great actor, and this girl went toe-to-toe with him in every scene, and at times, she stole it right out from under him. Partnering this leading lady with a formidable foe could prove to be difficult, but not when you have the likes of Marcie Millard and Googie Uterhardt around. What is there to say about these two that hasn't already been said over and over? They are stellar in their roles. Unfortunately, rounding out the 4 main leads, seems to be a bit of a newcomer according to his bio. Timmonte Hood as Black is a weak link in comparison to his other stage partners. He is not awful, he just cannot hold a candle to the other three, and comes across very timid and weak. Neither are adjectives that you would want to use to describe Black.
Standouts in the supporting cast are Cathe Hall Payne as Madelaine True: Lesbian. She may not have the largest range when it comes to her vocal belt, but BOY can that lady sell a song. Sharon Litzky and Jay Tryall are truly hilarious onstage as the delightfully dumb duo of Mae and Eddie. And Leslie Bellaire as the gender-bending Jackie is beyond beautiful. His/Her dance is breath-taking, and worth the price of admission alone. I have to say that there was a girl in the cast whom you cannot take your eyes off of. I am not sure of her name, but when you see the show you will know who I am talking about. The short red headed lady who dances in everything. She is just mesmerizing to watch onstage. Amazing.
As you can see from my wordy review, I really enjoyed this show. Like I said before, it is not light, it is not easy, but it is one heck of a Wild Party.
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| || Mystery Dancer by DavidS|
| I think the dancer you are referring to is the amazing Colleen Hargis. |
Risk Vs. Payoff|
Wednesday, June 17, 2009 ||
The tag-line for “The Wild Party” touts the show’s stylish depiction of the “glamour, sensuality and decadence of Manhattan in the Roaring Twenties.” OSA’s production succeeds on several levels, offering strong components to its audience. The set is strikingly impressive. OSA’s stage is not the easiest to deal with, but this set makes good use of space with depth and perspective. Only one quibble or perhaps a question: As impressive as it is, it doesn’t suggest a Jazz Age Manhattan apartment (yes, there are some period pieces)—this could easily have been a house in Anytown, USA. Maybe some sort of skyline visible through the window or a fire escape stairway would have helped. And the decaying, dilapidated look is at odds with the show’s statement about stylish glamour-- perhaps there’s a connection or symbolism there that I missed—nevertheless, it is an impressive set. Choreography is also notable— interesting and well-executed by all. Actors appearing inside the set—perched over doorways, within walls and windows—is very effective and well-done. Congratulations to Anthony Owen who is responsible for both set and choreography.|
The show is musically strong (with one exception) and accompanied by an excellent band—although at times a bit overpowering (particularly from percussion) for the onstage voices. But those moments are few and the ensemble between singers and band is very good.
“The Wild Party” features a high energy, hard-working cast. The two female leads contribute the strongest voices and characterizations in the cast. Mary Nye Bennett’s “Queenie” offers a strong, confident performance. Marcie Millard’s entrance as” Kate” certainly gets your attention--also strong and impressive. These two ladies definitely relish their roles. Unfortunately the leading men do not reach that same level—particularly Timmonte’ Hood (Black) whose sound is often weak, small, unfocused and suffers greatly in comparison to the other leads--not a strong casting choice. A general observation in listening to the show: it seems that more and more vocal style in music theatre requires screaming and harshness. Yes, “Wild Party” is a harsh piece, but still you find yourself wishing for a truly sung piece and you wonder how long some of these performers will last when their vocal stylings depend so much on the jugular vein. Sign of the times, I guess.
Onstage does a good job with the material, portraying the decadence of the Twenties. The show is lacking, though, in portraying the advertised glamour and sensuality, and the distinction between sensual and sexual. The show is definitely sexual. But several of the cast members seem tentative, awkward and self-conscious (or inexperienced) with the groping, grabbing, fingering and thrusting—and it’s noticeable because it’s such a major component to the staging and it’s constant. Too much so.
The most notable flaw is the show itself. For all of the impressive things happening onstage, there isn’t any character or circumstance that causes you to care about these people or what happens to them—nothing compelling. Maybe that’s intentional—perhaps the audience is expected to be nothing more than voyeurs. But in this reviewer’s opinion, that disconnect becomes a negative factor.
So, is the payoff worth the risk? “The Wild Party” is certainly a well-mounted show (pardon the pun), but the show itself doesn’t come up to the level that OSA gives its production. Nevertheless, I’m sure the production will generate much discussion. Congratulations to Onstage Atlanta for taking the risk.
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| || The Wild Party comments by GCherry|
| Yes, this is a very DARK show. There is violence, drug and alcohol abuse. However, those things are not glorified. The story is really very sad.|
On the comment "look is at odds with the show’s statement about stylish glamour", I believe the idea intended by the author is that these people 'believe' they are glamorous, but they are barely making it in that world. These characters are living on the fringe, not "normal" 1926 socialites. They are 'Wanna-bees'. I too had some small problems with the set, primarily some non-period pieces, but the set as a whole told me as I entered the theatre what I was about to see. Same thing with costumes; a few things out of context, but not enough to be upset about.
I am confused about some of the casting, but Marcie, Googie and Mary were great. I loved the solo by Cathe Payne, she is a hoot! The choreography is just amazing. The dance is worth the price of admission. Is it a risk to produce a show that not all audiences will appreciate? Possibly. But OA should be very proud of the product they have and glad to share it with those who love theatre that is not ordinary.
| || "... And I don't even like musicals" by jpmist|
| That was the phrase that left my mouth at intermission, just after the words "entralling", "fabulous" and "amazing". Then came the second act and I'm reminded why I don't like musicals. Some primative theatrical forebrain in me needs a credible narrative, but maybe with musicals, it's not the destination but how you ride. This one rode pretty damn well.|
I loved the set, the costumes, the makeup, the choreography, the dancing and the lighting, but most of all I loved the ensemble work which came close, but not quite, to upstaging the leads at any given moment of the show. Everywhere you looked was a vignette, a real interaction and not just actors pretending to fill in with a shallow momentary bit.
Which is a long way of saying I agree with the criticism of the script, but please don't let that stop you from seeing this excellent production. The energy, creativity, passion, yeah, that passion, was inspiring to watch.
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