The Wild Party

Book, Lyrics, and Music by Andrew Lippa

April 20-22 at 7:30 p.m.
April 23 at 2 p.m.
April 26-29 at 7:30 pm
April 30 at 2 p.m.
Gates-Abegglen Theatre

Directed by Ed Cohen

Adapted from a book-length poem written in and about the Roaring Twenties, The Wild Party is a musical that tells the story of one wild evening in a Manhattan apartment. Central characters Queenie and Burrs throw a party to end all parties with an assorted guest list of vaudevillians, hookers, and a handsome stranger who offers Queenie the hope of a less tawdry life.

Tickets: $12 Adult, $9 Senior, $8 Student*

*A curricular discount price of $6 per ticket is available to students, with faculty entitled to 2 free tickets per show if students receive credit for attending. To participate, contact the box office and provide your course #. Group discounts are also available for groups 10 or larger. Offer not available online.

Production Team and Cast

PRODUCTION TEAM AND DESIGNERS

Director: Ed Cohen
Asst. Director: Becca Braun
Choreographer: Jay Goodlett
Music Director: Stephen Lytle
Vocal Director: Lisa Ericksen
Stage Manager: Kristen Ruthemeyer Hammer
Assistant Stage Managers: Alyssa Henkelman, Shelby Scaffidi

Production Manager: Melanie Mortimore
Producer: Julia Guichard
Technical Director: Curtis Mortimore
Scenic Designer: Gion DeFrancesco
Costume Designer: Melanie Mortimore
Lighting Designer: Marly Wooster
Sound Design Advisor: Jason Sebastian
Scene Shop Foreman: Tom Featherstone
Costume Shop Supervisor: Meggan Peters
Stage Management Advisor: Marly Wooster
Dramaturge: Dani Eaton
Asst. Dramaturge: Hannah Regan

CAST

Queenie: Abby Chafe
Kate: Alisha Bond
Ensemble: Ben Negatu
Ensemble: Brenna Kane
Black: Brenton Sullivan
Nadine: Brooke Vespoli
Mae: Cassidy Steele
Eddie: Daniel True-Omaits
Ensemble: Erin Speno
Oscar: George Swarn
Ensemble: Jenny Clemens
Burrs: Jeremiah Plessinger
Madelaine: True Melissa Rowan
Phil: Michael Smith
Ensemble: Nick Karayianopoulos
Ensemble: Remy Willocks
Max: Rylan Hixson
Sam: Sam Adams

The Wild Party: the Poem and the Play

Compiled by Dani Eaton (Dramaturg) and Hannah Regan (Assistant Dramaturg)

The Poem (1928)

The Wild Party, in its original form, is a novel-length narrative poem written by American screenwriter, journalist, and poet Joseph Moncure March. March attended Amherst College, where he was mentored by Robert Frost, and many of March’s unpublished works are housed at Special Collections at Amherst College.

The poem was composed in a style referred to in The New Yorker as ‘improvisational,’ written a few lines a day over the course of the summer of 1926. The poem’s syncopation and rhyme scheme are reminiscent of jazz meters (indicative of the work’s status as a product of the Jazz Age), and the blunt, hard-edged metaphor and candidly sordid contents contrast sharply with the almost nursery-rhyme-like couplets. The result is a composition that is glitzy, melodic, and hard to forget.

The work was published as a limited edition in 1928 and was almost immediately banned in the city of Boston for its unabashedly sensual and risqué nature, which gained it a small measure of notoriety. Though the work maintained a small cult following since its original publication, the work had almost faded into obscurity when, Art Spiegelman –the Pulitzer-Prize winning author and illustrator of Maus (1986) – composed a series of black and white illustrations corresponding to the poem that were published in a new volume by Random House in 1994. It was the first time the work had been in publication in over 60 years, and it was Spiegelman’s influence that brought the work back into the public eye.

The Play (2000)

The Wild Party as written by Andrew Lippa is a remarkably faithful adaptation, with much of the poem’s language and meter still largely intact. First workshopped in 1997 at the Eugene O’Neil Theatre Center, the play premiered off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 2000.

The play makes up for a sparse plot with its ability to dissect complex character relationships. At the beginning of the play, it is established that after a long string of failed love affairs, Queenie and Burrs finally find their “match” in one another and are fulfilled. In a different musical, this might have been the end of the story – the finale would play and the curtain would descend on an unconventional but still happy ending. But Wild Party begs the question of what happens after the curtain comes down (both in the sense of the “love story” and in the literal sense of the characters being vaudeville performers), when the fire goes out of a relationship built on sexual passion and the participants have to face that the fire was the only thing they had in common.

About the Characters

Compiled by Dani Eaton (Dramaturg) and Hannah Regan (Assistant Dramaturg)

“Pugilist… lesbian… minor…” Many of the characters in The Wild Party are introduced as such – a name followed by a label that purposes to sum up the entirety of their beings in a word. From the narrative poem’s perspective, this device makes a lot of sense: it gives the reader a quick-and-dirty rundown of the host of party guests in attendance and allows the story to move past introductory characterization quickly to get back to the plot. From a theatrical standpoint, however, the notion of live actors embodying 2-dimensional stereotypes of people (as opposed to, well, people) on stage is utterly banal and unappealing. But this sort of categorization can also be seen as an asset; by giving these shallow definitions right off the bat, the question as to the nature of the character’s façade, or outward persona, has already been answered. This opens a very compelling line of inquiry, such as why a person would be perceived in such a way, what actions a person in their position would take and their motives, and whether or not this stereotype confirms or contradicts the character’s inner sense of self.

Even Queenie and Burrs are subject to this sort of reductive characterization, though the mechanics of it are much subtler. If one only looks at the explicit descriptions of their personalities, Queenie and Burrs might seem cold, conniving, and malevolent to the point as to make the casual reader wonder why we’re supposed to care about them in the first place. But by examining their actions throughout the play, we come to the understanding that these characters are more well-rounded than they appear at first blush, and indeed many of the song lyrics and spoken exchanges hint at the complex inner lives of both these characters. In the end, the play is not only about desire itself but about the act of desiring, or rather, the act of wanting anything at all.

Many of the characters in The Wild Party are deeply flawed, but it is through these flaws that they become relatable to the audience. The people in this play are neither devils nor saints, but occupy that precarious space between the two that humanity is want to frequent.

A major point of conflict introduced near the beginning of the play is the strain between Queenie and Burrs that occurs after Burrs becomes physically violent towards Queenie outside of the confines of their consensual sexual exploits, scaring her to the point of threatening him with a knife.

Afterwards, in “Out of the Blue,” Queenie displays a distinct longing to return to the way things were before things turned sour, when Burrs was her “perfect lover” and she his “passion child,” while also clearly stating her deep discontentment and recognition of the toxic and dangerous situation in which she finds herself (“I could walk away/But he'd hunt me down./I could sit and stay /But I'd start to drown.”)The party, then, becomes both a way to try and reignite the spark (“I’ll push us to renew it/but tell me what would do it?”) while also providing a way for Queenie to regain her footing and maintain her agency and power within the relationship (“Your choices now are growing few/Today is what you make and how you make it/The step is yours to take…”). But at the party when Burrs flirts with Nadine, Queenie decides to use her sexuality as a weapon to take revenge on him for his philandering (“I’ll lift my skirt/and make Burrs hurt”).

Yet far from being a violent and unfeeling womanizer, Burrs displays a depth that betrays his dimensionality as a character throughout the play – an important element in a story that could otherwise very easily be about a woman fighting with her irredeemably abusive lover. The song “What is it About Her?” in particular is a recounting of Burrs’ own emotional investment in their relationship, something that greatly increases the audience’s ability to sympathize with him despite his actions (though it doesn’t exactly cause a role reversal, it cements his status as a character we’re supposed to sympathize with rather than view as an unforgiveable monster). Their relationship is in its simplest form is a toxic power play, where vying for control is the substitute for reconciling their differences and dealing with the complexities of their emotional dynamics.

About the Playwright

Compiled by Dani Eaton (Dramaturg) and Hannah Regan (Assistant Dramaturg)

Andrew Lippa is an American lyricist, playwright, author, performer, and producer who is currently a resident artist at the Ars Nova Theatre in NYC. Born in Leeds in October of 1964, he and his parents emigrated to the United States three years later. After growing up in a suburb of Detroit, he received his bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of Michigan before moving to New York City in 1987 to become a music teacher. Lippa began his career as a professional theatre artist at the Goodspeed Opera House, where he was hired as a pianist in 1992 and before the end of the season was promoted to assistant music director and dance arranger.

In addition to The Wild Party, Lippa’s work includes the music and lyrics for Big Fish, I Am Harvey Milk, and The Addams Family as well as three original songs composed exclusively for the Broadway production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown. His accolades include both a Tony and a Grammy nomination, as well as a shared Emmy for his work on the children’s television series The Wonder Pets, among others.