In conjunction with the New York-based theater company Waterwell, Indiana University’s Department of Theater and Drama presents a special workshop production of The Wizard of Wall Street: The Life and Achievements of Financier/Railroad King Jay Gould.
Jay Gould was the archetypical robber baron. Estimated to be the 9th richest American in history, his wealth was no accident. John D. Rockefeller called Gould “the most skilled businessman I’ve ever met.”
A Gould As Good As Gold
A fascinating epic of Americana, the show is clever, funny, bawdy and charmingly full of itself. It’s also so sophisticated that it’s hard to believe the cast – a group of veterans and experienced IU students – put the performance together in less than two weeks.
Though The Wizard is a complicated show with many cast members playing multiple roles – each of which involves not only acting, but singing and choreography – in fact the show is still in flux. On opening night, the audience was kept waiting in the lobby while the cast worked on a new song. To their credit, the actors worked with such confidence and aplomb that no one could tell which song was the new one.
Phillip Hernandez was our guide and conductor for the evening. He never missed a beat, nor an opportunity to shape his part, along with our expectations. Jordan Gelber was delightful as Jay Gould’s partner, the boisterously crude Jubilee Jim Fisk. And whether she was singing an anthem in the style of Les Mis’ or doing a mocking strip tease, Nicole Parker struck just the right notes as the suffragette Victoria Woodhull. Through it all, Sean McNall weathered the triumphs and disasters of Jay Gould’s tempestuous life with eloquent quiet.
Mark Banik, Matt Birdsong, Taylor Crousore and Trenton Hulen each played multiple roles and made a fine quartet. This audience member especially enjoyed Banik’s performance as the snooty easterner Charles Adams. Kerry Ipema, and Mandy Striph filled out the distaff side, with Ipema as Gould’s long-suffering, straight-laced wife, and Striph as Jim Fisk’s spirited floozie.
Under the direction of Waterwheel’s Tom Ridgeley and the choreography of IU’s George Pinney, the theatrical approaches of The Wizard range from ‘tableau vivant’ to mime, from straight drama to eerily supernatural, in the case of a weird grave yard scene where corpses rise from the dead. Along the way, there’s even an opera – and yes, it’s in Italian. Sure, it could use subtitles, but it’s still fun.
Despite the variety of approaches, though, the production retains a unity of tone and flavor.
The music, by Lauren Cregor Devine, is something like the staging: There’s plenty of variety and conscious imitations. There are work songs, barber shop quartets, ballads, train pieces (with a sly nod to The Music Man), a Gilbert and Sullivan-style patter song, and Nicole Parker’s Les Mis’-like anthem. Yet like the staging, despite its variety the music seems all of a kind. I was struck by the fact instead of a rock band IU conductor/pianist Terry LaBolt brought a flute, violin, cello and French horn to sit in with the flexible rhythm section.
Performances of The Wizard of Wall Street continue tonight and Saturday night at seven-thirty and Sunday at two in The Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center’s Wells-Metz Theatre.
At the Theatre for you, I’m George Walker.
The Wizard of Wall Street: The Life and Achievements of Jay Gould
The Life and Achievements of Financier/Railroad King Jay Gould. Novel by Jonathan Goldberg. Directed by Tom Ridgeley with musical director Terry LaBolt.
Indiana University Wells-Metz Theatre
Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 26, 27, 28 at 7:30; Sun, Aug. 29 at 2 pm, 2010