Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Wild Party (Kalliope Stage)

There is a 'WILD PARTY' going on at KALLIOPE

A friend who had seen Kalliope's 'THE WILD PARTY'related a story that an elderly man, about halfway through the second act of the show, got up from his seat, said, "I've had enough of this depravity," and stumbled toward the exit. Hey, man, you hit on one of the play's central cores...the depravity of some relationships and the depravity of much of society. Moral...if you are like the offended man, are easily put off by nudity, a simulated orgy, and raunchy words, you might want to avoid the corner of Lee and Cedar for a while. If, on the other hand, you are interested in seeing passions out of control and investigate moral decadence, 'THE WILD PARTY' is your thing.

Andrew Lippa, who wrote the book, music and lyrics for 'THE WILD PARTY,' is one of the new breed of musical theatre creators. He's in the mold of Jonathan Larson, the conceiver of 'RENT' and Jason Robert Brownwho developed 'SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD.' They see lifeand place it on the stage with all its realties, flaws and warts.'

THE WILD PARTY' won the Outer Critics Circle Awardfor best Off-Broadway musical of 2000. It was nominated for 13 Drama Desk Awards including best new musicalAdapted from a book-length poem by Joseph Moncure March, the story takes place in the Roaring Twenties.

It tells of one wild night in the Manhattan apartment shared by Queenie and Burrs, a vaudeville dancer and a vaudeville clown. In a relationship marked by abuse, which mirrors the prohibition and gangster-controlled era in which they live, the duo throws a party to "end all parties." The event is attended by uninhibited guests including Black, a handsome and smooth operator and Kate, who has a "thing" for Burrs. Queenie and Burrs set out to make each other jealous. After a long night of no-holds-barred, Burrs' jealousy erupts and he is killed by Black. Queenie steals out, leaving in her wake the passed out revelers and a former life.

The music is a combination of jazz-era sounds, coupled with contemporary tones. Though none of the songs will be remembered for long, the overall effect of the music is excellent.

The Kalliope Stage production, under the direction of Paul Gurgol fulfills the authors intentions. The realistic, yet stylized staging works well. The script needed some cutting, however. After a while it felt that we were being overwhelmed with filth--enough is enough. Make the point and get on with it.

'WILD PARTY' contains some of the very best dancing and choreography seen on local stages. Michael Medcalf, the founder and leader of Cleveland Contemporary Dance Theatre, pulls out all the stops in his creative concepts. This is dancing and choreographic staging at its best!

The beautiful and talented Melody Moore is excellent as Queenie. Her "Maybe I Like It This Way" and her duet "What Is It About Her," which was sung with Tommy Foster (Burrs), were compelling. Moore is matched by Kalliope favorite Jodi Brinkman (Kate). Both as an actress and a singer, Brinkman continues to impress every time she appears on the theatre's stage. Her version of "Life of the Party"was a highlight.

Medcalf stops the show with his dancing in "Jackie's Last Dance." He absolutely lights up the stage whenever he moves. He reeks sexuality.

Kyle Wrentz is physically, vocally and performance right as Black. His version of "I'll Be Here" was well sung and interpreted. Madelaine True added to the decadence as the overboard lesbian. Her "An Old Fashioned Love Story" was well performed.

Tommy Foster, though looking overly made up (e.g., pencil lines on the forehead for feigning age), is generally believable at Burrs, though his singing varied from good to slightly off-key. The dancers were fine.

Showing special talents were Dezare Foster, Cedric Hall and the very talented Kathleen J. Turner.Musical director Michael P. Hamilton's sounds were well conceived and played. Lance Switzer's lighting design and Kim Brown's era-right costumes added much to the production.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: 'THE WILD PARTY' is definitely not for everyone. For those who are willing to be challenged and view the unscrubbed version of how some lead their lives, and want to see a well-staged and generally well performed but unnecessarily long play, Kalliope is one place to party.