Though thin on plot and weak on character development, the Constellation Theatre Company production of Andrew Lippa’s 2000 musical “The Wild Party” still manages to impress due to a strong cast and stylish direction by Allison Arkell Stockman.
The show tracks a night in the life of vaudeville showgirl Queenie — an incandescent Farrell Parker — and her sad-clown lover Burrs, effectively portrayed as both melancholic and enraged by Jimmy Mavrikes. Bored by the glitz around them, these two have come together in a passionate, violent relationship that worked in bed but flopped everywhere else. With the initial spark going cold, Queenie comes to resent the boorish Burrs and sets out to put him “on the rack” by humiliating him in front of their friends.
…the party is a sight to see.
Queenie convinces Burrs to throw a big party, where she intends to rise as he is laid low — though just what she expects to happen, or why, is left unclear. There is a lot of exposition in the first few numbers in the sung-through musical, though this is all just Lippa’s way of setting up his wild party, plot points be damned.
And the party is a sight to see. It may be shallow, but it’s shiny, and it’s a spectacle. Erik Teague costumes the show’s women in a rainbow of flapper garb, and choreographer Ilona Kessell has crafted some amazing moves to match Lippa’s broad score, which runs from jazz to gospel.
What plot there is kicks off with the arrival of Kari Ginsburg’s Kate, Queenie’s rival and counterpoint. While Queenie is tightly done up in a white dress and carefully arranged hair, Kate is a flouncy but sexy mess, spilling out of her dress as she stumbles about the bacchanal. Kate has her eyes on Burrs, though it’s hard to imagine why, while Queenie plots to win Black, the cool-as-ice newcomer who Kate dragged along. Ginsburg steals all her scenes with her big voice and brave performance.
The standout of the ensemble is Rachel Barlaam as Madelaine True, a droll lesbian on the make who is searching for her next conquest. Lippa has given her the show’s best song, “An Old-Fashioned Love Story,” and Barlaam squeezes all she can from it, in a genuine show-stopper. Emily Zickler as petite flapper Mae and Carl Williams as bootlegger Max are also impressive.
“The Wild Party” gets bogged down a bit in its final melodramatic scenes, where Lippa is trying to raise the emotional stakes beyond what his slapdash characters have earned. To its credit, the company presses on through these scenes with gusto. But it’s much more fun to watch them when they’re out on the dance floor.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
“The Wild Party” runs through October 29, 2017, at Constellation Theatre Company at Source, 1835 14th Street NW in Washington. Click here for tickets.