Chicago Theater Review: THE WILD PARTY (Bailiwick Chicago at Victory Gardens)

Post image for Chicago Theater Review: THE WILD PARTY (Bailiwick Chicago at Victory Gardens)

by Barnaby Hughes on October 9, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

PARTY LIKE IT’S 1928

A riot from start to finish, Bailiwick Chicago’s The Wild Party is a breathless, exuberant, fast-paced production running for an hour and forty minutes without pause or intermission. Based on New Yorker editor Joseph Moncure March’s narrative poem of the same name, Michael John LaChiusa’s musical adaptation is a colorful celebration of the Jazz Age replete with adultery, homosexuality, drunkenness, and drug use. In other words, adult entertainment par excellence.

The company of Bailiwick Chicago’s production of THE WILD PARTY. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

There’s not much to the plot beyond the titular party thrown by lovers Queenie (Danni Smith), a vaudeville chorus girl, and Burrs (Matthew Keffer), a blackface minstrel (the libretto is co-written by George C.Wolfe). As more and more of their theatrical friends arrive and are added to the mix, old rivalries are rehashed and romances rekindled. Everyone seems to be doggedly pursuing someone else’s lover, resulting in a fantastic blurring of sexual and racial boundaries. Despite all the freedom to love, however, jealousy rears its ugly head. In fact, jealousy more than fun seems to drive the plot, resulting in The Wild Party’s violent end.

Danni Smith and Patrick Falcon in Bailiwick Chicago’s production of THE WILD PARTY. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Smith and Keffer both bristle with sexual energy, giving strong performances that anchor both the show and the rest of director Brenda Didier’s impressive cast. Among the friends, acquaintances, and rivals at the party, perhaps none is more memorable than Sasha Smith as Sally, the lesbian girlfriend of Christina Hall’s Miss Madeleine True. Sasha Smith makes falling asleep on stage incredibly funny. At one point she awakes from the general post-orgy slumber and sings sultrily with breasts bared. Jason Grimm’s Goldberg—a wannabe producer—also stands out for his stiffly comic discomfort amidst the libertine hijinks going on around him.

(center, left to right) Gilbert Domally, Matthew Keffer and Desmond Gray with the company of Bailiwick Chicago’s production of THE WILD PARTY. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

In complete contrast is Molly Coleman as Nadine, a teenage ingénue on her first visit to New York. Her constant refrain about wanting to sing on Broadway, replete with standard Broadway-style melodies, serves to show how different La Chiusa’s score is, with its jazzy, bluesy inflections played beautifully by an unseen band, tight as a drum under Music Director Aaron Benham. Gilbert Domally and Desmond Gray as Phil and Oscar d’Armano (read hermano or brother) have two of the cast’s best voices, which add welcome harmony to the mix; they’re also excellent dancers.

Danni Smith (center) with the company of Bailiwick Chicago’s production of THE WILD PARTY. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Didier’s imaginative choreography keeps everyone moving (and the audience busy trying to decide who to watch) with plenty of breast-bouncing, butt-slapping, hip-shaking, and heel-kicking. Stage manager Mallory Bass never lets the frenzy get out of control, however.

Rarely has this reviewer ever seen a set as beautifully designed as that of Megan Truscott’s. The sumptuous furnishings, with their brass and velvet surfaces, give The Wild Party a Gatsbyesque glamour that elevates the whole show, giving its low-life characters a semblance of elegance and refinement that they do not possess. Theresa Ham’s wardrobe design reinforces this impression, especially on the trim and toned men.

A triumphant season-opener for Bailiwick Chicago, The Wild Party easily lives up to its name. It’s a party you won’t want to miss.

photos by Michael Brosilow

The Wild Party
Bailiwick Chicago
Victory Gardens
Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave
Thurs and Fri at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 3
ends on November 1, 2015
for tickets, call 773.871.3000 or visit VG
for more info, visit Sideshow

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

Comments on this entry are closed.