By Nora Dominick ‘17/Emertainment Monthly Assistant Stage Editor
New York City Center is having a Wild, Wild party this week as they wrap up the 2015 Encores! Off-Center series with Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party. The jazz age comes to life from July 15-18, 2015 as new and old fans are introduced to a short-lived, monumental Off-Broadway musical.
Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party is a Jazz Age love story for the ages. This tragic story follows party girl Queenie over the course of one, booze-filled night as she and her lover Burrs throw a party to end all parties. The guest list includes vaudevillians, hookers and of course a handsome stranger who offers Queenie the hopes of a less tragic, tawdry life. The Wild Party is based on Joseph Moncure March’s 1928 narrative poem of the same name.
Andrew Lippa’s original Off-Broadway production opened in 2000 at the Manhattan Theatre Club. It played 54 performances and originally starred the incomparable Julia Murney, Brian d’Arcy James, Taye Diggs, Idina Menzel, and Alix Korey. Ironically Lippa’s version opened the exact same year as Michael John LaChiusa’s completely unrelated musical based on the same poem. Lippa’s The Wild Party went onto win the 2000 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical. With direction by the great Leigh Silverman (Violet), The Wild Party is being re-mastered as part of New York City Center’s Encores! Off-Center series and is turning heads on Broadway.
The Wild Party drops the audience right into the golden Jazz-age where vaudeville triumphed and rules were ignored. Two time Tony Award Winner Sutton Foster gives a triumphant performance as Queenie, a misguided, party girl who is trying to navigate the life she has landed in. Foster is no stranger to the Encores! Off-Center process. She starred in Anyone Can Whistle in 2010 and Violet in 2013. Violet would later transfer to Broadway in 2014 and earned Foster a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical. The role of Queenie is a different role than Foster is known for, but she fits into the world of The Wild Party flawlessly. Her work as Queenie is extraordinary. From the moment she steps on stage in the opening number, “A Wild, Wild Party,” she has the audience eating out of the palm of her hand. Fans can’t help get enough of Foster’s incredible Broadway voice especially in the number, “Raise the Roof.” The sleek, jazz-age dresses and the bleach blonde wig help transform Foster into a character that has anxiously been awaiting Foster’s magic touch.
Sutton Foster’s Broadway career has spanned numerous and varied roles. From Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie to the incredible tap-dancer Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes to her stripped down performance in Violet. Foster’s talent knows no bounds and her portrayal of Queenie continues to stretch her acting abilities. Her dancing skills of course took center stage during the number, “The Juggernaut.” Foster’s amazing dancing coupled with Sonya Tayeh’s simply mesmerizing choreography help this number soar. Sutton Foster may be expanding her horizons on TV, (she currently stars in the TV Land hit comedy Younger), but she knows where her home is and that’s Broadway. The best part about Foster playing Queenie? The fact that Lippa penned an entire new, Act Two number just for her. Talk about Broadway star power. This short stint as Queenie continues to solidify Foster’s rank amongst the Broadway elite as she drunkenly seduces the audience in The Wild Party.
Of course the character of Queenie in The Wild Party would be nothing without the two men in her life. Burrs, Queenie’s abusive boyfriend, is played by the extremely talented Steven Pasquale. Pasquale turned heads on Broadway last season with his award-worthy performance as Robert Kincaid in The Bridges of Madison County opposite Tony Award Winner Kelli O’Hara. Pasquale made his debut in the original production of The Wild Party and he still fits into the world flawlessly. If Steven Pasquale could sing the phonebook people would line up to listen. His work opposite Foster in The Wild Party is stunning especially in the Act One finale, “What is it About Her?” His voice shines in the role of Burrs and it seems like the music was written for him. The musical number, “Let Me Drown,” showcases Pasquale’s vocal range as well as his comedic timing. Of course his greatest moment may come during Act Two in the number, “Make Me Happy.” Pasquale’s voice shines as he sings the classic Lippa music and fans can’t help but hope he makes a more permanent home on Broadway very soon.
The incredible Brandon Victor Dixon plays Queenie’s other love interest, Mr. Black, a suave, newcomer to Queenie’s world. Dixon leaves his mark on The Wild Party with his portrayal of Mr. Black opposite Foster’s Queenie. From the moment Dixon steps on stage he seduces the audience with his booming singing voice. His shining moment of course comes in the Act Two number “I’ll Be Here.” His voice booms through the New York City Center as he captivates not only Queenie’s heart but also the hearts of every, single audience member. Dixon’s sultry walk coupled with his chemistry opposite Foster makes this pairing one for the ages. Foster, Pasquale and Dixon play the perfect trio and definitely leave their mark on The Wild Party.
The best part of The Wild Party is the cast of characters that inhabit Queenie’s party. Two of the characters, Kate and Madeline, leave their mark in Encores! production. Kate is portrayed by the amazing Joaquina Kalukango. Her incredible vocal range helps bring the role of Kate to new and exciting heights especially in the numbers “Look at Me Now” and “The Life of the Party.” She leaves her mark on this star-studded production of The Wild Party and helps fuel the fire between Queenie, Burrs and Black.
Madeline may only have one number but it arguable received the biggest applause of the night. Encores! Off-Center is proud to welcome Miriam Shor back to the stage. Shor is most notable for originating the role Yitzhak in Hedwig and the Angry Inch and she is currently starring in Younger opposite Sutton Foster. Shor scores one of the biggest cheers in The Wild Party during her number “An Old-Fashioned Love Story.” Her comedic timing is flawless as she cracks some serious jokes and brings the audience to a rousing applause. Shor and Kalukango help elevate the already flawless production of The Wild Party to new and exciting heights.
The Wild Party invites you to join their crazy night of fun this week as Sutton Foster, Steven Pasquale, Miriam Shor and an incredible cast of characters takes a beautifully designed stage as they bring The Wild Party to a whole new generation. Break out your best jazz dance moves, buy a stiff drink and get ready for the story of your life. The Wild Party helps conclude a flawless season for Encores! Off-Center series and you won’t want to miss Ms. Foster in a role of a lifetime.
By Nora Dominick ‘17/Emertainment Monthly Assistant Stage Editor