CEDAR RAPIDS — “The Wild Party” asks much of its actors and orchestra, and Theatre Cedar Rapids delivers the goods on a silver party platter.
Andrew Lippa’s Roaring ’20s musical is based on 1928 narrative poem that raised eyebrows at the time flappers were raising hemlines. TCR gave its production an R rating, and I’m afraid that might be scaring off potential viewers. Thursday night’s audience didn’t even fill the center section on the main floor.
This show deserves much more attention.
Granted, nothing shocks me much anymore, but this seems more like a PG-13 production. The language isn’t terribly coarse, the sex is implied, the period-appropriate lingerie is lovely and almost demure, and the violence is carefully choreographed to deliver more of an emotional than visceral impact.
And the music is just so intoxicating, stirring and shaking rock and a little gospel into some red-hot jazz.
Everyone onstage has killer pipes, and everyone in the orchestra pit just kills their parts, especially drummer Ryan Hoagland, who knows how to crash those cymbals to build the tension to a fever pitch.
Nearly everything is told through music, with very little spoken dialogue, which means theatergoers who are not used to that, need to listen closely to follow the action. Fortunately, all the lyrics are easily understood, augmented by careful movement by director Matthew Weedman and choreography by Aaron Canterbury, both of which further the storyline visually.
It’s the tale of actress Queenie (Marjorie Gast) and vaudeville clown Burrs (Alex Anderson), two lovers whose violent relationship is escalating to the point where Queenie wants out. She suggests throwing a party for their friends. Her secret desire is to humiliate Burrs by openly flirting with others until he explodes with jealousy in front of their friends, thus exposing his dark side and giving her a cover to make her escape.
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Their flamboyant friends include “a hooker, a looker,” a boxer, a dancer, a minor girl and various other performers and producers. The women wear gorgeous dresses dripping in beadwork and fringe, and the men sport suits in plaids, stripes and other patterns of the day, including one man in knickers, a sweater vest and argyle socks. Everyone is dapper from head to toe — hats and hairdos to kicky shoes — thanks to costume designer Joni Sackett.
The action plays out in the couple’s apartment. Instead of conventional walls and doorways, scenic designer Daniel Kelchen and lighting designer Amanda L. Mayfield have created an Art Deco aura through clean, hard-edge lines on hanging diamonds, platforms and drapery panels in sleek reds, blacks and cream, lit with flashing Edison bulbs and pyramid-shaped footlights. It’s very chic, very clean and very striking — just like the show.
The heat cranks up when their friend Kate (Kaitlin Byers) shows up with a man she met the night before, Mr. Black (Peter “Jubiril” Awe). Kate has her sights set on Burrs, and she thinks Mr. Black will tickle Queenie’s fancy — which he does.
Both women’s plans are working out perfectly, until Burrs’ seething rage reaches its flash point and erupts in a soul-shattering act of violence.
The Roaring ’20s burn red-hot in this “Wild Party.”
If you go
• What: “The Wild Party”
• Where: Theatre Cedar Rapids, 102 Third St. SE
• When: To Feb. 10; 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday
• Tickets: $28 to $36, TCR Box Office, (319) 366-8591 or Theatrecr.org
• Rated: R
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