Sunday, 19 July 2015

Sutton Foster and Steven Pasquale in THE WILD PARTY at City Center Encores

     The most impressive aspect of last night's performance of THE WILD PARTY -- for me at least -- was the audience. The giant City Center was packed, mostly with young people. There were hundreds gay and straight young couples all excited about the revival of an unsuccessful Off-Broadway musical. The cheering for the big numbers was almost deafening. The same thing was true at ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY the night before. The musical is far from a dead art form for under 35 folk. It's very much alive if a diva they know from television is the star. I have never seen Sutton Foster's television sitcom, YOUNGER, but I am told by younger friends that it is very popular. Her entrance last night inspired a roar that could have lifted the Moorish roof off of the City Center.
      Andrew Lippa's THE WILD PARTY (there's another version of the same source material by Michael John LaChiusa that was produced the same year) isn't going to go down in the annals of great musicals. The score has some good moments but much of it is generic. The strongest music goes not to Queenie (Sutton Foster), but to her on and off boyfriend, Burns (Steven Pasquale). The central narrative line about the confused vamp and the two men who are smitten with her is not strong enough to carry a two hour show and the other characters are underdeveloped.
      THE WILD PARTY is an intimate musical played in a giant theatre. Leigh Silverman staged it effectively -- not easy with a relatively static script. Although the focus is on three characters, there are a lot of partygoers on stage who provided atmosphere and visual interest without stealing focus. Sonya Tayah's choreography was full of cliches. The powerful performances by the leads was the production's raison d'etre. Sutton Foster, usually the perky all-American girl, played the blond femme fatale convincingly. She made the most of her songs. Steven Pasquale, as usual, sang magnificently. His two big numbers earned the loudest ovations. Pasquale seems to be the go-to guy for playing troubled studs in big musicals. He's a fine singer and a good actor who makes the most out of these parts. The one thing that was missing here was a sense of his character as a clown. He needed more than the red nose to show how Burns uses clowning as a defense mechanism. Humor doesn't seem to be Pasquale's strong suit. Miriam Shor made the most of her "Lesbian Love Story." Brandon Victor Dixon has great stage charisma and a sweet singing voice. It's not his fault that his part is underwritten. Ditto Jaoquina Kalukango who is attracted to both the men who can't take their eyes off of Queenie.
     The main problem with THE WILD PARTY is that for the most part it offers a collection of stereotypes singing generic music.
THE WILD PARTY. New York City Center. July 18, 2015.

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