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Book, Music and Lyrics by: Andrew Lippa
Based on the Poem by Joseph Moncure March

Bishop Arts Theatre Center

Direction and Musical Staging: Adam Adolfo
Musical Director: Casidy Castillo-Wilson
Choreographer: Isaiah Harris
Stage Manager: Katelyn Kocher
Intimacy Director: Hannah Fuller
Scenic and Lighting: Davis Lighting
Costume Designer: Tamara Ballard
Props Designer: Kristin M. Burgess

Queenie: Kristin Colaneri
Burrs: Nolan Spinks
Black: Antonio Thomas
Kate: Ashley Ragsdale
Madeleine True: Sarah Powell
Eddie: Gen Donnell
Mae: Alex Sutherland
Oscar: Joe Rhoads
Phil: William Tennent Cheek
Jackie: Jason Hallman
Max: Shane Morgan
Dolores: Damara Williams
Nadine: Karrington Davis
Sam: Alexander Sudhir Joshi

Keyboard: Thiago X. Nascimento
Guitar: Christopher Williams
Trumpet: Kipp Brewer
Bass: Tony Ballard
Drums: Casidy Castillo-Wilson

Reviewed Performance: 10/12/2019

Reviewed by Mildred Austin, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

THE WILD PARTY by Andrew Lippa appeared off-Broadway, coincidentally, at the same time as another production with the same name and source material and which starred Mandy Patinkin and Eartha Kitt.. Both shows are loosely based on a 1928 narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March by the same title . March was best known for this sexually charged Jazz Age poem, along with another, THE SETUP. He later went on to Hollywood where he worked as a screenwriter until 1940. Lippa’s musical version had originally opened at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center in 1997 as a workshop, and with Kristin Chenoweth in the role of Mae. It hen had an off-Broadway run, opening February 24, 2000 at the Manhattan Theatre in New York, where it ran for 54 performances and starred Idina Menzel as Kate.

The story follows two vaudeville performers, Queenie and Burrs through their lusty love affair which begins to finally sour and leads them to host a wild, wild party, complete with bathtub gin, cocaine, and uninhibited sexual behavior. As the night wears on, the party quickly devolves into an orgy with a tragic ending. The guests at the party are a parade of varied sexual “types” and vaudevillian characters and include a mysterious Mr. Black, brought by the cocaine addicted temptress, Kate who is Queenies best friend and rival. Black, younger than Kate is quickly attracted to Queenie. Also attending: a gay/brothers act the D’Armanos who provide comic relief, Madelaine True a lesbian stripper, Jackie the dancer, prizefighter Eddie, his wife Mae, and Mae’s underage sister, the innocent Nadine.

The music is inconsistent with any sort of “type” and is best when settling into the smooth Jazz of the age. It is at times almost atonal, and I am guessing was quite a challenge for all of the singers to master. The quartets of Burrs, Queenie, Black and Kate are quite good, however, some individual songs are not as strong. The band is excellent and makes every effort to really support all the singers, especially in those numbers where it must be difficult for them to find their notes.

There are some outstanding performances in the course of this wild, WILD party (having partied in the 60s, I at times felt like I had BEEN to this party!). Sarah Powell as Madelaine True provided an absolutely electrical performance both musically and in her characterization of a lesbian woman seeking real love in all the wrong places. Her energy and stage presence made it difficult for me to keep my eyes off her wherever she was onstage.

Ashley Ragsdale also was a dynamic, sexually charged Kate with vocals and dance to match. She captured both the erotic predatory side of her character, but also the weary, cocaine addicted outsider who will most likely never find the actual love she seeks. Ragsdale owned the stage when it was called for and was also hard to take your eyes off.

Kristin Colaneri was the doomed Queenie who could not commit herself to the relationship that would benefit her. Colaneri was sexy and hard but also damaged and hurting at the same time. Her voice carried her character succinctly to her audience.

Nolan Sprinks as Burrs, Queenie’s vaudeville clown lover, has a strong voice that carries his character as well. He is appropriately angry and artless in his approaches to various females at the party, but evokes our sympathy as he seeks to reunite with Queenie in the end.

Antonio Thomas is quite impressive both vocally and in his stage presence as the mysterious Mr. Black, a younger lover Kate brings with her to the party. He plays the character as almost innocent or heedless of the sexual intrigues that play about him. When he engages with Queenie he appears to be the man she wants, but is trapped by the circumstances of her life and decisions she has made or failed to make. Just a costume suggestion here: keep the undershirt on as he beds with Queenie. The suggestion of nakedness is always more tantalizing than actual nakedness.

William Tennant Cheek and Joe Rhoads provide comedic moments as the gay/brother act the D’Armanos. Cheek was animated to the point of almost aggression. In the whiteface he could be amusing and at another time, creepy Rhoads was the opposite as his brother/partner. He seemed to just go along on much of the act brother Phil improvised.

I want to mention and credit all the performers in this cast as each had so much to add to successfully fill out the characters performing at this party. Gen Donnell as Eddie the fighter played beautifully off Alex Sutherland his ditzy wife, Mae. Their duet/act was absolutely charming.

Absolutely charming is also a way I can describe Karrington Davis as the obvious underage misfit at the party. Davis gradually melds from the sweet, innocent “little sister” to a more jaded girl who melds more and more into the party and its collection of misfits.

Jason Hallman as Jackie sometimes serves the audience, almost as the character of the Mime, introducing scenes and stepping away from the party, but again, at times he is very much a part of the party. His strong voice and even stronger dance training really enable him to stand out from the crowd.

Alexander Sudhir Joshi as Sam, Shane Morgan as Max and Damara M. Williams as Dolores, fill out the ensemble and add variety in character and able vocals.

I so enjoyed how this party goes on all over the set and no actor ever steps out of character but fills in with physical movement and expression that let us know often what is being talked about, who is interested in who, who is depressed, who is happy, etc. etc. Director Adam Adolfo has masterfully managed this large cast around the multi-level set. Focus is always where it should be by stage picture and I loved Adolfo’s use of the stage picture. The audience is captured into the party and made to feel part of it. That said, I was uncomfortable with the few times the actors broke the fourth wall. That did not seem to “fit” into the concept of the set, the theme and the consistency of the action. Also I want to mention the signs, very reminiscent and appropriate at a vaudeville show, but very inconsistently used and interacted with.I found the use of a sign introducing a number to be awkward to the extent of being “hokey.”

Change from scene to scene was handled by the actors easily and in a very non-distracting way. And I was fascinated watching Burrs turn himself back into the Clown just offstage where he could be seen.

This production is an energetic, dynamic interpretation of the lyrics and music of Andrew Lippa. It was my first time to attend a show at the enchanting Bishop Arts Theatre and appreciate all the work and love which has gone into making this theatre group so viable. Show choices are unique, not the same old community theatre fare. This musical is a stunning example. My hat is off to this company and those who brought this show to fruition: director, actors, musicians, costumer, choreographer and all the others who are working to push this theatre, near the historic and reviving Bishop Arts District, to the forefront of theatre in Dallas!

Bishop Arts Theatre
215 South Tyler Street
Dallas, Texas 75208
Plays through October 27, 2019
Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.
Sunday at 3:00 p.m.
Tickets $18-$30
215 South Tyler Street
Dallas, Texas 75208
Tickets: 214-948-0716