REVIEW: CCM's The Wild Party
Darkness and destruction makes for good drama.
Andrew Lippa’s “The Wild Party” is a curious, quirky theater piece. It’s very dark and full of unlikeable characters, and yet it has a bit of a cult following. The Saturday matinee performance, which was staged in the basement of the Contemporary Arts Center, was sold out. Strange, given that some of the shows produced on campus barely fill the house.
I suspect the novelty of this title, being produced almost renegade-style off-campus, made it an attractive ticket. Regardless, I doubt anyone in attendance was disappointed, even if they walked away not loving the book, score, or story.
That’s because the talent on stage is out-of-this-world next level. Sarah Jane Nelson, as “Queenie,” does her best work singing seductively and with restraint. Yet, when it was time to belt, few do it better. Sarah Pansing as “Kate” nearly stole the show with the big number “Life of the Party” and her overall star power. Jamal Stone showed versatility and range as “Mr. Black,” drawing the audience in with every breath. And Stone Mountain was an intimidating “Burrs,” with pristine vocals and scary stage presence. Another stand out was Julia Schick as “Madeline;” her solo number was as good as anything you’ll see on Broadway.
The entire ensemble was remarkable, as was the choreography by student Eliza Levy (also in the show). The jazzy score allowed for some fun and inventive movement. Overall, director Eric Santagata handles this difficult material with with a deft hand, however, some of the staging choices made it challenging to see from the third row and beyond in this flat, single-level black box. Still, the dancing that was visible from my seat towards the back of the room was fantastic, especially the work of cast member (and assistant choreographer) Coty Perno.
Steve Goers’ musical direction was on point, with every note sung clearly and the small musical ensemble maintaining the vibe of the production with every rat-tat of the drum and strum of the bass. Costumes, wigs, and props were as high-quality as one would expect from a CCM production, even one staged with a limited budget like this. Special mention should go to loyal and generous “friends of CCM,” Douglas Ducket and Brent Offenberger, who sponsored this production - and support the students on and off stage in ways that are immeasurable. They are truly wonderful people.
“The Wild Party” will never be my favorite musical. (That’s “Spring Awakening, which CCM is producing in April.) But if one is going to produce it, I can’t imagine it being much better than this.
Up next at CCM: Cinderella. Tickets and more information can be found here.