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 rape
d and another guest is murder
ed. 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.