Review: The Wild Party
In between all the gin fizzes and flapper dresses, Patrick Maguire finds a solid production
Last night’s production of Micahel John LaChuisa’s The Wild Party by UCLU Musical Theatre Society more than competently channelled the frenzied excesses and schizophrenic debauchery of a group of vaudeville performers/cocaine enthusiasts over the course of an ultimately tragic evening in 1920s Manhattan.
Director Shafeeq Shajahan has assembled a cast and chorus of strong singers, and despite the odd bum note, nobody wrote cheques they couldn’t cash. The immaculately costumed company have a tremendous chemistry about them, and through their physical and musical dexterity present the decadence of the Jazz Age with engaging vitality as opposed to the wooden historical fascination that one might expect. It’s hard to fault the obvious enthusiasm, though it’s equally hard not to cringe when some scenes of gin-guzzling and inter-war pulling efforts had shades of over-zealous B Movie actors about them.
On balance, however, the cast do a tremendously good job of not letting things devolve into the farce you might expect from a musical that presents a relentless evening of coke-fuelled group sex – the publicity material didn’t lie when it promised gin, sin, skin and fun. Maybe they’ve been preparing by method acting at weekends. The breadth and depth of talent on show ensured an emotive and layered performance that the socially incisive subject matter deserves, and it’s certainly true that a lesser or more imbalanced cast than this one might deliver something that comes across a bit more Bugsy Malone than F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Leading couple Jack Oliver Aaron and Hayley Bater are difficult to fault, and they ably flitted between the giddy hedonism, depravity and crippling self-awareness demanded of them by the roles of Burrs and Queenie respectively. The relationship between Burrs and Queenie embodies the sobering (despite all of the unhealthy-sounding ‘bathtub gin’ knocked back) narrative that quietly strips back the glitz and superficiality, exposing an inherent helplessness and isolation that lends a real power to the performance, due in no small part to Aaron and Bater. Similarly, Ben Whittle and Vincenzo Monachello were captivating and hilarious in equal measure as incestuous, high-kicking brothers Phil and Oliver, who as the narrators made a similar transition from sexually charged hyperactivity to utter dejection. Likewise Josie Charles fulfilled a demanding role as doe-eyed Nadine, a fourteen year old who experiences the dark side of Manhattan’s glamorous social circles, and she did so movingly, with flashes of brilliance.
No one member of the cast is too conspicuous, and accomplished and entertaining performances from Tom Chesover and Ben Hiam as aspiring Broadway producers Gold and Goldberg were key to the excellent balance of the production. Hiam especially is consummately hilarious. Without being too hyperbolic, he came across with the air of a young Woody Allen. (I promise this isn’t because I too was snorting lines last night – he is painfully funny.) Matt Weldich too deserves an honourable mention for a depiction of young suitor ‘Black,’ delivered with a cool poise.
It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the solid work done by the accompanying musicians, who give a faultless rendition of a lively score, and the stage crew, who ensure that Shajahan’s nuanced and intelligent directorial vision is fully realised. Admittedly, the show could certainly be more polished and is by no means perfect as a spectacle – but it is definitely a fantastic and well-executed student production, and is well worth a fiver. All in all, a solid four-star effort from the Musical Theatre gang, and a good way to pass an evening.