Produced by: San Jose Stage Company
Directed by: David Davalos
Choreographed by: Brett Blankenship and Carmichael "C.J." Blankenship
Music direction by: Lauren Bevilacoua
Featuring: Allison F. Rich, Noel Anthony, Carmichael "C.J." Blankenship, Courtney Hatcher, Mike Birr, Adrienne Herro, Joshua Hollister, Jake Mahler, Brittney Monroe, Noelani Neal, Allison Parker, Keith Pinto, nathaniel Rothrock, Theresa Anne Swain
Running time: One intermission
When: June 4 through July 24, 2016
Where: San Jose Stage Company, 490 South First Street, San Jose, California
Tickets: $20-$60; call 408-283-7142 or visit www.thestage.org.
of a grim story at S.J. Stage
has a great cast dancing in a great set
There is so much I like and admire about The San Jose Stage Company production of Andrew Lippa's "The Wild Party" that I highly recommend it, even though, ultimately, I don't like the musical very much.
This production is amazing, with a fabulous cast of beautiful women and men who spend a lot of time in their underwear, showing off very buff bodies, a fabulous set by Michael Palumbo, red-hot, snappy direction by David Davalos, and powerful choreography by Brett Blankenship and Carmichael "C.J." Blankenship.
It's a very intense piece of work, delivered with significant power.
Lippa, one of the geniuses of modern theater, wrote the book, music and lyrics, based on the 1928, book-length narrative poem of the same title by New Yorker editor Joseph Moncure March. March's inspiration was a real wild party, the one at the center of the Fatty Arbuckle scandal of 1921.
The Lippa musical turns out to be a kind of a morality play about defiant decadence, with the message that yes, you can have all the sex, drugs, gambling and alcohol you want, but you're not likely to come to a happy ending, and even the nice guys end up in a world of hurt.
I think I already knew that, being a sentient adult.
But as an art piece, this is pretty impressive stuff at San Jose Stage.
The audience walks in from the June heat to cool temperatures and fresh fog covering an art-deco set hung with shiny metal pipes arranged in a circle around a square design on the floor. There's a bed, a piano, a bathtub and some other bits of this and that. When the show starts, it gets dark, and some very shapely female bodies walk in and pose in silhouette.
Noelani Neal gets special kudos for holding a difficult pose for a lonnnng time, on one foot.
The music starts and we are introduced to the very impressive Allison F. Rich as Queenie, "who never got tired of the men she desired."
Rich, with her extraordinary eyes and magnetic stage presence, is an associate artist at San Jose Stage and apparently the go-to actor whenever a steamy woman is needed. As Queenie, she is dressed in quite a lot of clothing, but it's all silky, sexy underthings, and she presents quite the desirable image.
Tall, beautiful woman in seductive underthings? What's not to like?
Rich is very powerful in the role, with charisma to spare, staying solidly focused on Queenie's character as she navigates this busy, sung-through musical. There were times I wondered if maybe her singing wasn't quite up to what Lippa might have wanted, but he wasn't there to ask (as far as I know), so maybe I was wrong about that.
Most of the other women wear even less, with bare midriffs all the rage. The men are mostly dressed in slacks, with suspenders over wifebeater shirts.
Noel Anthony shows up as the very scary, very intense Burrs, the man Queenie falls into lust with. He's a clown, and has a red nose on a band that he sometimes wears as a nose. People who were always scared by clowns as children were scared of this guy. Terrific performance by Anthony.
After three years, Queenie is tiring of him, and unhappy with his violence, and suggests they hold a wild party.
The event offers a number of vignettes involving various party people, and sexual tension and anger are always just below the surface. Into this mix walks C.J. Blankenship as Black, an actual nice person.
He and Queenie fall in love, and then the inevitable fecal matter really hits the fan.
Speaking of the two Blankenships attached to this show, the dance routines were really terrific, with some showing the kind of angry sexual tension seldom seen outside better productions of "A Spring Awakening." Kudos to the choreographers, dancers and musicians.
This is really an A-list cast throughout, with all solid performances.
Lippa puts lots of impressive music in it, including trios and quartets, which I tend to admire.
Happy ending? Not so much.
I was amused at the Sunday matinee when an older woman in the front row got cranky because the show didn't start on time, and tried, by herself, to get one of those clap-clap-clap things going, glowering at the set and pounding on her seat arms. But nobody joined her. Once the show got going, with all its sex and drugs, she walked out after maybe 10 minutes, nose in the air.
Email John Orr at firstname.lastname@example.org