The Denver Post

“The Wild Party” offers a wild night

- By Joanne Ostrow

“Queenie was a blond and her age stood still,

And she danced twice a day in vaudeville.”

— from “The Wild Party” by Joseph Moncure March (1928)

That’s all you need to know at the outset of “The Wild Party,” an immersive musical that encourages audiences to get in the mood by getting dolled up in Roaring Twenties-style clothes and enjoying cocktails before and during the musical performanc­e. (Most attendees at a recent show obliged on all counts.)

Director Amanda Berg Wilson has adapted the show into a 360degree theater experience -- an intimate cabaret that launches into an eye-popping musical tale with actors mixing it up with the crowd.

The story isn’t always clear, the lyrics aren’t always decipherab­le, the presentati­on sometimes counts for more than the content, but it is certainly a wild night.

Here’s the lowdown: Queenie

(Emily Van Fleet) and her boyfriend Burrs (Drew Horwitz), who met on the vaudeville circuit, have a violent fight, then decide to host a party to sooth their tense relationsh­ip. “She liked her lovers violent and vicious: Queenie was sexually ambitious.” Add oceans of bathtub gin to an armed argument and what could go wrong?

The audience is invited into Queenie’s apartment — and asked to stay seated unless told to stand, and to touch the actors only appropriat­ely.

“The Wild Party” is a musical drama by Michael John LaChiusa that ran on Broadway in 2000, based on a 1928 narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March. The lyrics tell of the dangers of love and lust, and the lessons of debauchery. African-American, Latin and Jewish characters bring prejudices into focus.

Mainly, though, the event is a sensory explosion, complete with vintage Victrolas, stunning costumes and a sevenpiece orchestra tucked away in a corner.

The stylistica­lly impressive production by the Denver Center’s Off-Cen- ter, now playing at The Hangar at Stanley Market, is less interactiv­e than “Sweet & Lucky,” the producers’ previous off-site immersive venture. But it beautifull­y showcases the talents of the cast while inviting “Party”-goers to stick with the theme.

The set design by Jason Sherwood is a highlight, a sprawling rectangle of the hangar transforme­d by vintage furnishing­s, clever lighting and mismatched seats, stools and sofas, with Queenie’s dirty kitchen and bathroom set at the center. Attendance is capped at 208 per show. Patrons are encouraged to explore the set during intermissi­on.

Actors work the room, involving observers in the story. Depending on where you sit, you’ll be more or less familiar with certain characters.

Van Fleet is tireless and full-throated as Queenie, Horwitz is a lithe charmer as Burrs, Laurence Curry is dashing as Black, and Erin Willis is powerful as Kate, Queenie’s longtime frenemy.

Aaron Vega works hard as Jackie, the “ambisextro­us” dancer; Marco Robinson plays the romantic Eddie the boxer.

Sheryl McCallum is winning as Delores, the Eartha Kitt role on Broadway. Katie Drinkard is Mae, the boxer’s babe, and Jenna Moll Reyes is endearing as Mae’s underage sister Nadine, who wants in on the action.

Diana Dresser shows off quick dance moves and risqué humor as tuxedoed lesbian Madelaine True, and Allison Caw is riveting as the addicted, knifewield­ing, shriek-laughing Sally, to whom Madelaine is addicted.

The two “loud Jew theatrical managers” Goldberg and Gold are depicted by Wayne Kennedy and Brett Ambler, respective­ly. And Trent Hines and Leonard E. Barrett Jr. play the incestuous brothers Oscar and Phil D’Armano.

The gin is cold and the music’s hot, as they say, the performanc­es are worthy and the full effect makes a good case for experiment­ing beyond convention­al proscenium theater.

 ?? AdamsVisCo­m ?? Emily Van Fleet in “The Wild Party.”
AdamsVisCo­m Emily Van Fleet in “The Wild Party.”

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