The Wild Party presented by Bailiwick Chicago at Victory Gardens Theatre. Music and Lyrics by Michael John Lachiusa. Book by Michael John Lachiusa & George C. Wolfe. Directed & Choreographed by Brenda Didier. Runtime 1 hour & 45 minutes with no intermission.
The Wild Party, based on the 1928 poem of the same name, is a musical that has caused much heated debate among theatre lovers since the early 2000s. The source material is responsible for not one but two musicals both with dedicated fan bases. Both rarely produced, Bailiwick Chicago brings Michael John Lachiusa’s Broadway version of the show (the other by Andrew Lippa played off-broadway respectively) with the grit and the dirty jazz treatment it deserves.
The story centers around Queenie (Danni Smith) a vaudeville dancer known for her sexually ambitious life style and her abusive vaudeville clown boyfriend Burrs (Matthew Keffer). The couple and their guests’ worlds are turned upside down in an evening of debauchery.
This a true ensemble piece and the cast is never stronger than when they are all interacting with each other. The party is never more alive than in full company members with “Gin/Wild” being a real highlight. Some of the individual stars shine brighter than others but as a whole the energy among the entire cast is stellar.
Dani Smith’s Queenie is on the opposite end of the vulnerability spectrum from her Jeff winning performance in Passion earlier this year. Smith plays queenie with ignorance, self-pity and sensuality. Her voice is in fine form, as we’ve come to expect from her.
Matthew Keffer is giving the strongest performance as the manic boyfriend Burrs. His voice is crisp and at often times reminds me of the role’s Broadway originator Mandy Patinkin. His hysteria is nuanced and overtakes him as Burrs falls deeper and deeper into the evening. “How Many Women in the World” is sung and acted to perfection.
On par with the show’s two anchors are the always dependable Ryan Lanning as Jackie and Molly Coleman as the awe struck youth Nadine. Both actors created such dynamic characters that I often found myself watching them regardless if they were the main focus of their scenes. Mr. Lanning dances throughout the show with oily charisma and charm and is instantly likeable. Miss Coleman is a Chicago star in the making (having also recently appeared in Bailiwick’s Carrie). Her voice soars with aspiration in “The Lights of Broadway”. Look out for her, she is likely to be an ingénue on many more Chicago stages in the coming years.
Sharriese Hamilton lends a strong soulful voice to Kate. All of her numbers are knockouts, especially “Black is a Moocher”. Unfortunately her counterpart Patrick Falcon as Queenie’s potential new lover Black isn’t up to the task. While he has the looks, he lacks the masculinity and charm the role requires.
Rounding out the cast are Jason Richards & Jason Grimm as Gold and Goldberg the comical Jewish producers. They nail every laugh line and rouse the audience with an excellent rendition of “The Moving Uptown Blues”. Desmond Gray & Gilbert Domally lead Ms. Didier’s choreography expertly and are very much the life of the party. Danielle Brothers also adds great comedy as Dolores Montoya though it is hard to fill the vocal demands of a role written for the late-great Eartha Kitt.
The design elements are all in sync and working well. Megan Truscott’s scenic design goes from a small vaudeville curtain into a lavish New York apartment in an exciting transformation. Brian Hoehne’s lighting design infuses the darkness of the orchestrations and tells as much of a story as the characters. In addition, Aaron Benham’s music direction is formidable and is proving with each show that dirty jazz is his thing.
The show is an energetic ride through the 1920’s and this is the best production of Lachiusa’s The Wild Party you are likely to see in Chicago for at least a decade. Go to the theatre, grab a glass of gin, and step into Queenie’s Wild Party.
The Wild Party runs through November 1st’. Performances are Thursdays & Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3 pm and 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. www.bailiwickchicago.com
Reviewed by Drew Shanahan