Theater review: A good time at 'The Wild Party'

CorrespondentMarch 10, 2014 

Anne Caitlin Donohue stars as Queenie in “The Wild Party” in a terrific, tireless performance of song, dance and high drama.

COURTESY OF ERIN ZANDERS

  • Details

    What: “The Wild Party”

    Where: North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre, 7713-51 Lead Mine Road, Raleigh.

    When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and March 21-22; 3 p.m. March 16 and 23.

    Cost: $17; $14 students and seniors.

    Info: 919-866-0228 or nract.org

Youth, it’s 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 Lippa’s “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 couple’s 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: It’s 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 you’d 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. It’s 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 Turgeon’s lesbian-on-the-make Madeline delivers a highlight with her solo number, “An Old-Fashioned Love Story.”

If the production occasionally lacks precision, it’s more than made up for with energy and spirit. In the end, you’re invited to ponder the musical’s thematic refrain – “no limits, no boundaries, no compromise” – in a new and bitter light. Ah, youth. Where have you gone?

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