LaChiusa’s The Wild Party opens The Other Palace, formerly the St James Theatre, with a bang. With the space’s new policy of focusing on chamber musicals, the new theatre seems exciting and, if this show is anything to go by, looks to be successful.
Based on a 1928 narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March, the show, with music and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa and a book by Chiusa and George C. Wolfe, premiered on Broadway in 2000. It follows a day and night in the life of Queenie, a vaudeville star, and the party held by her and her partner, the violent Burrs. The party kicks off in gin-flowing, cocaine-snorting style (a kind of 1920s version of the party in Christina Aguilera’s ‘Dirrty’) but then Queenie’s old friend Kate comes along, bringing a man, Black, who could change Queenie’s life.
Frances Ruffelle lends Queenie a powerful vulnerability, while John Owen Jones is almost unrecognisable as as the chilling Burrs, terrifying in his clown mask. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt sparkles in her role as Kate, while powerful support is provided by Bronte Barbe as the underage Nadine and Dex Lee as Jackie, and there’s some effective cross gender casting with Gloria Obianyo and Genesis Lynea as the Brothers D’Armano.
I had issues with the plot – there isn’t one, really – and with some of the characterisation. Black is little more than a cipher, and I didn’t find the central relationship particularly moving. However, for me this paled into insignificance beside the whole atmosphere of the show: Drew McOnie’s inspired choreography and, running through it, LaChiusa’s music, with its edgy rhythms and jazz echoes.
In the intimate space of the Other Palace auditorium, The Wild Party spilled out and made me wish I had something stronger than a glass of water in my hand. For me, an unforgettable show.