‘THE WILD PARTY’
When: Through Nov. 1
Where: Bailiwick Chicago at Victory Gardens Studio, 2433 N. Lincoln
Info: (773) 871-3000; http://www.victorygardens.org
Run time: 1 hour and 40 minutes with no intermission
Imagine the most sordid underbelly scenes in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and you might begin to understand the sort of world you will enter as you arrive at “The Wild Party,” the fabulously warped, steamy, anything goes, show-biz-infused musical tragedy that is set in the New York of the Roaring Twenties and features a galvanic score by Michael John LaChiusa.
But here’s the real kicker: It’s a good bet you will never find a more brilliant rendering of this party (based on Joseph Moncure March’s classic Jazz Age narrative poem) than the one now being thrown by Bailiwick Chicago. On the tiny, jam-packed stage where all the action plays out, director-choreographer Brenda Didier and her cast just knock your socks off from first note to last in what is an altogether enthralling (adults only) production.
Take your pick: Rough sex, drugs, bootlegged gin, self-destruction, racial and ethnic role-playing, the corruption of a minor, the desperation of divas, strippers and chorus girls alike, the tricky moves of moochers, the twisted rage of abusers. And then there’s this: the heartbreaking discovery of love that proves more shocking than anything.
Didier is a fabulously audacious, hard-driving choreographer, and this show erupts with emotionally driven movement as lewd and bravura as the story itself, with Aaron Benham’s musical direction (and a four-piece band that sounds like an orchestra) in perfect sync with LaChiusa’s scorching score. But it is Didier’s direction of this show that seals the deal. She has cast it brilliantly, meticulously orchestrated the chaos and carnage of the party in spectacular tabloid fashion, and seen to it that every song becomes a full character study and scene.
At the center of the story is Queenie (a wonderfully raw Danni Smith), a sexually driven chorus girl nearing the end of the line. Restless, she suggests to Burrs (Matthew Keffer in a terrifyingly intense turn), a middling song-and-dance man with a reputation for jealous rages who is her live-in lover, that they throw a party. It turns out to be a doozy.
Among the guests are: Dolores Montoya (the show-stopping Danielle Brothers), a famous stripper well past her prime but hungry for a comeback; Kate (the ideally glam Sharriese Hamilton), who has found stardom; Black (fine and subtle work by actor Patrick Falcon), the handsome hanger-on who is Kate’s lover but takes a shine to Queenie; Nadine (tiny, spot-on Molly Coleman), the underage girl infatuated with show biz; Phil (Gilbert Domally) and Oscar (Desmond Gray), both electrifying as a Nicholas Brothers-like black dance team; Eddie (the fiery Steve Perkins), the boxer who arrives with chorus girl Mae (the appealing Khaki Pixley); another chorus girl, lesbian Madelaine True (Christina Hall), and her alcoholic pickup (golden-voice Sasha Smith); Jackie (a louche Ryan Lanning), the ambisexual, disinherited banker’s son; and the deftly comic/naive Gold (Jason Richards) and Goldberg (Jason Grimm), theater owners ambivalent about their Jewishness whose move from the Bowery to Broadway makes them the target of many overtures.
Much of what goes on that party is beyond tawdry (designer Megan Truscott’s ideally “shabby burlesque” set captures the mood). But amid all the desperation, violence and opportunism, a real love story (tragic, of course) emerges between Queenie and Black, and it is expertly limned.
“The Wild Party” unfolds with all the speed of Jazz Age rhythms, and by the time its 100 furious minutes have run their course, the ferocity of it all leaves you both exhilarated and exhausted. This production also is the latest indication that Bailiwick, whose recent shows have included “Carrie” and “Dessa Rose,” is fast emerging as a top-ranking producer of musicals.