Youth, its been said, is wasted on the young.
But just try telling that to Queenie and Burrs, the Jazz Age hedonists at the center of Andrew Lippas The Wild Party, the racy and raucous musical running weekends through March 23 at North Raleigh Arts & Creative Theatre.
A 1920s power couple whose love is quickly turning rancid, Queenie and Burrs are burning out from the inside on sex, booze and jazz. On a malicious whim, Queenie arranges an impromptu party at the couples Manhattan apartment, with the intention of driving the philandering, abusive Burrs over the edge.
From the very first scenes, artfully staged by director Craig Johnson, events crackle with menacing sexual tension. We meet a parade of party guests the Pugilist, the Dancer, the Hooker, the Lesbian. An icy love quadrangle develops with the introduction of the predatory Kate and an innocent young man called Black. The bootleg hootch flows freely, and you can almost smell the sweet scent of moral decay.
In short: Its an enormously good time at the theater, pulled off with skill and style. The Wild Party is almost entirely sung, and even the brief dialogue exchanges are delivered atop nonstop musical vamping. The production boasts a cast of 16 and an eight-member band, so youd think things would get crowded spatially and musically in the small Raleigh theater.
But aside from a few too-loud crescendos, music and staging are managed admirably. Its rather like a good party, actually. You can just sit back, dig the music and people watch. While the gin-soaked drama is playing out downstage, scandalous things are often happening elsewhere, so keep your eyes peeled.
The music is dense and challenging, too. Even the big splashy dance numbers are undercut with edgy dissonance by music director David Oberst.
Anne Caitlin Donohue leads the cast as Queenie; she takes us through her story arc with a terrific, tireless performance of song, dance and high drama. As the brutish Burrs, James Ilsley projects a whiskey-fueled potency. Natalie Turgeons lesbian-on-the-make Madeline delivers a highlight with her solo number, An Old-Fashioned Love Story.
If the production occasionally lacks precision, its more than made up for with energy and spirit. In the end, youre invited to ponder the musicals thematic refrain no limits, no boundaries, no compromise in a new and bitter light. Ah, youth. Where have you gone?