“The Wild Party “at IU’s Wells-Metz Theatre is a musical based on a jazzy book length poem by New Yorker managing editor Joseph Moncure March. When I tell you that the poem inspired William Burroughs to become a writer and the graphic novelist Art Spiegelman to do a set of illustrations, you’ve got a pretty good set of points for triangulation. It’s a raunchy fable about a bunch of low life theatrical types who have slight hopeful glimmerings of talent and humanity about them.
The show and its costuming are set in the twenties. Though there are some numbers that evoke the Charleston and a couple of other period dances the music by author and composer Andrew Lippa is relatively generic. The sounds of “Hair” kept coming incongruously to my mind though this is clearly not a rock show, and there’s one number that is clearly an homage to “Tonight” from “West Side Story.” The Department’s Musical Theatre Music Director Terry Labolt led an onstage sextet with two keyboards, drums, electric bass, trumpet and reeds.
The center of “The Wild Party” is a feuding couple. There’s Queenie the aging vaudeville dancer sung and danced with great verve and skill by Ariel Simpson and her lover Burrs, a very talented William Angulo, a clown. The energy of their sex has gone out and Queenie tries to re ignite it with a challenging party. The challenge becomes central as longtime rival Kate, the magnetic Lovlee Carroll, shows up on the arm a new relative innocent, Black, played by the game but ailing Russell Stout. There’s some cross pollination and it might have led to a successful hybrid, but the distraught Burrs and Black struggle. Burrs is killed. Black flees. Kate is on the sidelines. Queenie, with the remnants of the revelers, sings the last song.
George Pinney is the director and choreographer for “The Wild Party.” He’s done quite a job of organizing the big cast for large numbers and more intimate moments. The lives of the characters in this show aren’t pretty, and neither are the dances that they do. The hearty helping of faked sex is all mechanically, pathetically joyless. Energy, nearly relentless energy is the hall mark of their lives and of the show. Even with this talented cast there’s an unappealingly desperate quality to the grungy affair
Andrew Lippa’s “The Wild Party” continues at the Wells-Metz Theatre with evening performances at 7:30 on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. There’s also a Saturday matinee at two.