The Wild Party

 

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By Brian Scott Lipton

 

 

 

 

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The roars of applause that greeted the opening chords of Andrew Lippa’s “The Wild Party,” which concludes this year’s City Center Encores! Off-Center series, proves that this Off-Broadway musical has gained a definite following over the past 15 years. Yet, for other theatergoers, this adaptation of Joseph Moncure Marsh’s jazz-age poem will always be a too-bitterpill to swallow, focusing on the unhealthy relationship of entertainers Queenie and Burrs. And whichever side you’re on, Leigh Silverman’s accomplished production probably won’t change your mind – though even naysayers will be impressed with the vocal pyrotechnics of this talented cast.

Unknown-3Tony Award winner Sutton Foster can’t quite shake off her naturally sunny disposition as the self-destructive Queenie, but she brings genuine pathos to the role. More importantly, her clarion belt and deep understanding of Lippa’s lyrics make such songs as “Raise the Roof,” “Maybe I Like it This Way,” and “A Happy Ending” truly memorable. As the men in her life, Steven Pasquale is scarily convincing as the unhappy clown Burrs, and brings his soaring voice to “What Is About Her?” and “Let Me Drown,” while Brandon Victor Dixon is silky smooth as the mysterious Black, scoring a well-deserved ovation for his solo “I’ll Be Here.”

Unknown-2The evening’s great surprise Is Joaquina Kalukango as party girl Kate (a role originated by Idina Menzel); this superb actress has one of those killer voices that can literally shake the rafters. And it’s a pleasure to finally have the wonderfully sardonic Miriam Shor back on stage, who unsurprisingly sells her one solo, the clever “An Old-Fashioned Love Story,” with gusto. Lippa doesn’t give the rest of the supporting players or ensemble much to do, but it’s hard not to watch the graceful Ryan Steele when he dances, take in the elegance of Rachel deBenedet, or delight in the odd-couple pairing of Ryan Andes and Talene Monahan.

Unknown-4Music director Chris Fenwick and his smallish orchestra handle Lippa’s score with great flair, and choreographer Sonya Tayeh (of “So You Think You Can Dance?” fame) provides some excellent movement for the 20-person cast.

Think twice before you accept an invitation to this “party,” as it can make the sunniest of summer days turn into the darkest of nights.

“The Wild Party” continues at New York City Center through July 18.

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