Reviewed by Chris Cassone
There's probably not enough time to get the word out about the intoxicating Jaxx Theatre production of Wild Party.
But I'll try.
LA, please don't miss this one. It's a Fitzgerald-esque story set in the 1920's where lovers can't be trusted, and best friends become rivals. It's got it all. Super love triangle-within-a-triangle, high-stepping dancing with intricate choreography, passionate torch songs with show-stopping performances, palpable sexual tension, and a great feel. Yes, feel. Director, Jeremy Lucas, welcomed the audience into a room right out of the Roaring Twenties, complete with gramophone, settee and brass bed. Strains of Bessie Smith set the mood along with a time-travelling haze that always does the trick. And that room we entered belonged to Queenie (Madelyne Claire Lego) and Burrs (Kyle Steven Stocker,) two young lovers who wanted more from life and to stop bickering, so a party with all their edgy friends was their choice.
Based on the 1928 long-form poem by
Joseph Moncure March, with book and songs by Andrew Lippa,
Wild Party starts with the entire cast in an old-fashioned police line-up upstage. They act like a Greek chorus much of the night, first introducing the characters and then adding musical commentary as the story needed. Different numbers demanded different members to join the singing and dancing downstage. By the time the party got in gear towards the middle of the first act, we knew everybody through their rapid-fire noir dialogue.
Flappers, jitterbuggers and even a prize fighter all watched, danced, sang and drank as Queenie and Burrs lived out their fantasies with others. And then, to get the party really started, Kate enters and blows the roof off the place. Whitney Vigil's rip-roaringly bawdy entry song was "Look at Me Now," which reached higher heights every verse and resulted with her on top of the table, hitting the high note. Several numbers later we are introduced to the gender-bending of "An Old-Fashioned Lesbian Love Song," delivered with suave irreverence and smart interpretation by Emily Rafala playing Madeline True. Clearly an audience favorite (although every song received rousing applause,) the clever lyrics full of double entendres coupled with Rafala's sassy delivery had us wanting more.
And then there was Jackie, played by co-producer and ensemble member, JD Torres Morabito. His pansexuality and devious smile endeared him to us all. His solo dance was smooth, enticing, and full of great bodily arcs, emitting the quiet solace of an erotic ballet.
The dancing choreography was exciting, inventive and never predictable. Their timing impeccable with everyone in sync. And they sang Lippa's enjoyable melodies that sometimes wandered into modern jazz land, with confidence and sharp precision. The score was so much more evolved than your typical Charleston-type music. The orchestra in the high rafters of stage right were responsible for all the in-key singing and timing. Adam McDonald's arrangements and direction were inspiring. Five musicians sounded like twelve and never overstayed their welcome. They supported the singers and framed the performance beautifully.
Then, there was trouble in paradise as Queenie moved first, flirting with Black, and Burrs followed with Kate, that is, when he was sober enough. Everyone lives right out on the edge in Lippa's world. Fights almost happen, the cops almost come, and lovers almost stay faithful. But it takes the drunken Burrs manhandling Eddie the fighter's moll for the star to get his clock cleaned. Not enough to elicit Queenie's sympathy because she was too busy with Black in the brass bed. A mishmash of morals leads us to the denouement when the gun fires and someone falls. It was bound to happen and if you want to know who, well, you have two weeks. Two weeks to see and hear some of Los Angeles' best. Madeline Claire Lego stopped the show several times with her emotional delivery and star vocals. Kyle Stocker also brought the crowd to its feet with his singing. And their cross-stage duet with their lovers is still in my ears. But come if only for the finale, Lego's eulogy over the body is the best of the best with the full ensemble complementing her.
Now, if I led with "
Wild Party, the Opera," many might have taken a pass, but this is, in essence, a modern prohibition opera containing 28 numbers with recitative that fulfilled the rest of the story. In other words, they sang even when they talked. As a side note we felt that there was a sound issue with a subtle distortion when singers belted, and an overall room volume that had my companion reaching for earplugs. But I'm just being honest and way too picky.
This production is Broadway bound so grab your fedoras and cloche hats, your cigarette holders and flasks of bathtub gin, because the party is starting at Jaxx Theatre.
Wild Party continues October 20, 21, 27 & 28. All shows @ 8PM. The Jaxx Theatre is located at 1089 N. Oxford Ave. in East Hollywood, 90029. For tickets please visit: www.Showclix.com/Event/Wild-Party There are a limited amount of VIP tables available. Please contact Charisma@JaxxTheatricals.org for booking information.
Be sure to check out their special Halloween-themed Magic Show starring David Goldrake after the performances on October 27th & 28th @ 10:30PM.