The Wild Party is a poem from the 1920's written by Joseph Moncure March. Detailing the events of a drunken celebration, the story revolves around Queenie, a vaudeville dancer, and Burrs, a vaudeville clown. The events of the poem spiral downward through a wild orgy until a fellow guest is almost raped and another guest is murdered. It offers a glimpse of the carefree debauchery of the 20's with its unsympathetic characters and unglamorized view of the time period.

Recently two musicals played simultaneously both on and Off Broadway. This offered the avid theatergoer the chance to compare two very different interpretations of the same source material. The poem is a difficult starting point for a cohesive dramatic piece because of the nature of its story line. Most of the characters are presented in a series of short vignettes without being fully realized on their own. The Off Broadway version was written completely by Andrew Lippa and concentrated solely on the story line of Queenie and Burrs. While it did a good job of solidly depicting their individual motives for throwing the party (Queenie was interested in making Burrs jealous) it ignored fundamental aspects of period depiction, inviting the viewer to imagine the story in virtually any historic time. Musically, the show utilized too many different styles to make for a truly overwhelming dramatic piece. The music was largely explosive and distracting, and, while this worked for the first half of the show, the second, more serious half suffered as a result.

The Broadway version, written by Michael John LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe, delivered a much darker version of the poem. Mr. LaChiusa focused the music on pastiche imitations of authentic 20's popular music. This version did not focus solely on the love story, but allowed almost every character their own moment to shine. Performed without an intermission, the show was instead divided into three "acts". The first introduced the characters in a glitzy, Broadway manner and set the story up for its inevitable downslide. Eventually the party erupts and the facades created in the first segment crumble- exposing the darker sides of the person within. Keeping true to the poem the show does end similarly to the Off Broadway version, but the effect is greater due to the concentration on important themes relevant both to their time and our own.

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The Wild Party, a poem first published in 1928, was republished in 1995 with gorgeous black and white woodcut-style illustrations by Art Spiegelman, who had "rediscovered" this lost classic of the jazz age. The images are an almost perfect match for the strange syncopated rhythms of the couplets, and the hard-boiled story of debauchery.

It's astonishing writing. Even if you don't like it, it slinks back into your mind, to the point where you remember the lines as soon as your walk hits the right pattern and pace.

A paperback edition was released in 1999.
Already a fan of Andrew Lippa's exquisite "john & jen," I knew that he was a gifted composer. But I don't think anything could have prepared me for the blazing score that is "The Wild Party." If more composers and lyricists had half of Lippa's gift for melody and lyrics, his energy, and his enthusiasm, musical theatre would have the same vibrancy it did in the so-called Golden Age of Broadway. Lippa is definitely a force to be reckoned with, and as long as he continues to work in musical theatre, we who are fans of that art form will have much to enjoy and savor. I would even go so far as to say that Lippa may be the true heir apparent to Sondheim: this is a score that not only entertains and delights, it is also provocative and intelligent.

Lippa's music is endlessly brilliant. These are songs that get my adrenaline pumping, and make me want to get on my feet and dance. I play it in my car and find myself pounding away on the steering wheel and dashboard, accompanying the rhythms that drive and invigorate the music. These are melodies that are instantly memorable, burning themselves into the brain as soon as they are heard. Michael Gibson's orchestrations are delightfully funky and idiosyncratic — I mean, electric guitar in a Roaring Twenties musical? — and are the perfect complement to Lippa's music.

His lyrics are entertaining and playful, and rest easily on the music — repeated listenings aren't necessary to understand and follow the lyrics. The standout song lyrically is, for me, 'An Old-Fashioned Love Story,' it is at once hysterically funny and wistfully sad.

The pacing of the songs is impeccable, no doubt due to Lippa's book, with great balance between full-throttle beltable songs and quietly reflective songs, and as a result the listener is not worn out by too many high energy songs in a row. Lippa also wisely keeps the focus on the four central characters, only occasionally drawing attention to the supporting characters. At the same time, these supporting characters aren't two-dimensional — they are given their due in the ensemble numbers, but only rarely are any of them given their own numbers. I am reminded of Sondheim's focus on George and Dot in "Sunday in the Park with George."

Along with "The Secret Garden," this is the best ensemble work I have heard. The four leads — Taye Diggs, Brian d'Arcy James, Idina Menzel, and Julia Murney — are all gifted with gloriously expressive voices, at once belters and character singers. Their quartet in 'Poor Child,' is perfectly balanced, their voices weaving in and out of one another's, creating an astounding vocal tapestry. The other performers who are given solo work, especially the showstopping Alix Korey as Madelaine, are equally as brilliant as the leads. And when the entire company is singing — most notably in 'A Wild, Wild Party' — the result is nothing short of electrifying.

In "The Wild Party," Andrew Lippa has not only created an ectrifying and memorable score, he catapaults to the forefront of the up-and-coming generation of composers. Adam Guettel, Michael John LaChiusa, and Jason Robert Brown need to watch out: Andrew Lippa has finally arrived, and as long as he continues in musical theatre, they have incredible competition.


The Cast (in order of appearance)
Queenie - Julia Murney
Burrs - Brian d'Arcy James
Reno - Todd Anderson
Kegs - Ron J. Todorowski
Madelaine True - Alix Korey
Eddie - Raymond Jaramillo McLeod
Peggy - Megan Sikora
Max - James Delisco Beeks
Rose Himmelsteen - Felicia Finley
Sam Himmelsteen - Peter Kapetan
Ellie - Amanda Watkins
Jackie - Lawrence Keigwin
Oscar d'Armano - Charles Dillon
Phil d'Armano - Kevin Cahoon
Dolores - Kena Tangi Dorsey
Mae - Jennifer Cody
Nadine - Kristin McDonald
Kate - Idina Menzel
Black - Taye Diggs
The Neighbor - Charlie Marcus
Swings - Joyce Chittick, Colleen Hawks, Steven Ochoa, Steven Pasquale


The Songs (as listed in the liner notes}
Queenie Was A Blonde
Out of the Blue
What a Party
Raise the Roof
Look at Me Now
Poor Child
An Old-Fashioned Love Story
By Now the Room Was Moving
The Juggernaut
A Wild, Wild Party
Two of a Kind
Maybe I Like It This Way
What Is It About Her?
The Life of the Party
I'll Be Here
Let Me Drown
Tell Me Something
Come With Me
Jackie's Last Dance
Make Me Happy
How Did We Come to This?/Queenie Was Blonde (reprise)

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