“No boundaries. No limits. No compromise.”
That phrase is not only repeated throughout the show, but it perfectly sums up Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party, a show that is now playing and running through May 25th at The Ritz Theatre in Haddon Township, New Jersey. (Haddon Township is right across the river from Philadelphia … you know, PHILLY. The city where our country was founded … the city where Ben Franklin kicked his feet up after a day of electrocuting stuff … the city our Lord and Savior Fresh Prince called home … the city of calm and civil sports fans … yup, good old Philadelphia.)
I am sure you are wondering, “Okay Ky, I’ve been hearing a lot about this whole Wild Party thing. What is it about?”
Based off a Joseph Moncure March poem of the same title, The Wild Party is the story of the volatile relationship of Queenie (played by Marta Wasser), a stunningly gorgeous dancer, and Burrs (played by Kris Clayton), a vaudeville comic, in the New York Prohibition days of the 1920s. Queenie, fed up by the latest of many brutal physical outbursts from her lover, seeks to find a way to humiliate Burrs publicly, and suggests that the pair host a party. An eccentric parade of guests, including the vivacious Kate (played by Jennie Knackstedt) with her new beau, the mysterious Mr. Black (played by me!), fills the small apartment. As Queenie, Burrs, Kate, and Black stir the high-strung emotions and jealousy within each other, the evening turns from wild debauchery, to destruction and murder…
I don’t know about you, but after reading a plot summary like that, I would
turn off The Real Housewives of New Jersey drop everything that I was doing and go see something like this immediately. But if you still need convincing, no worries! Here are 11 reasons why you should come check out our #RitzWildParty this weekend.
11 – The Lights, The Set, The Hair and The Costumes
The minimalist, yet very unique set design is unlike anything you’ve seen on The Ritz stage, or most stages even. New York City skyline gracing the background, a raked stage, along with some well-suited, movable set pieces add to the mystique of this set. Chris Miller’s varied and atmospheric lighting uses shadows, unique side lighting, and chill inducing darkened scenes rarely seen in musical theater. And of course, the 1920s costumes and hair/makeup by Rusty Miller and Kristin Foreman (respectably) are true stand-outs and unlike anything I have ever personally worked with before in theater. And to see the progression (or regression, I guess) of the costumes, hair and makeup as the party delves into more debauchery is truly fascinating.
I guess this is a good point to tell you that you should leave the kids at home with this show. Hire a babysitter, grab a drink or eight, and come see this mature-audience only production. If you do bring your kids
I’ll punch you, just know that they’ll have A LOT of questions afterwards… yep…
10 – The Rarity of Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party
There is a reason that you have never heard of this show. It’s NEVER done around this area. Give or take a couple colleges that are gutsy enough to take on a show like this every couple of years, this show is not something you get the chance to see often, especially as a fully-staged production. Let’s just say this, you have a better chance of seeing a production of Oklahoma that takes in modern-day Camden than you do at seeing multiple productions of The Wild Party. You definitely do not want to miss this, as it may be your only chance to see it in this area for quite some time. It’s an underrated, musical gem that was way ahead of its time when it was introduced to the theater world in 2000.
Wait a second… a production of Oklahoma that takes place in modern-day Camden… someone HAS to start working on this… *dials Bruce Curless’ phone number*
9 – The Music
The infectious score by Andrew Lippa has a contemporary feel and offers energetic musical numbers that are driven by the characters. The show also features impassioned ballads and charming comical songs that quite often save the audience from going too dark, too often. The wonderfully melodic and theatrical tunes are matched by uniformly witty and well-crafted lyrics. Songs such as “Raise the Roof”, “Poor Child,” “An Old-Fashioned Love Story,” “A Wild, Wild Party,” the very popular female audition belt song “The Life of the Party,” “What is it About Her?,” and “Make Me Happy” are not easily forgotten and are excellent examples of Andrew Lippa’s pure genius.
The show is musically directed by the amazing Brian Bacon, whose music direction and live band (yes, a LIVE band at The Ritz!!!!!) offer the audience such a refreshing and pivotal live sound. Kim Curless also did wonders for the voices of the cast, as this is NOT an easy show to sing.
Chuck Norris, what are your thoughts on the music in this show?
8 – The Ritz Theatre
Many of us are quite aware of how close we were to losing our beloved Ritz Theatre this year. It was scary for a lot of people, but fortunately, this theatre has one of the strongest theatrical families I have ever seen in my life. After almost losing this gem, Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party is the first show to go up on the stage after raising so much money to save the theater. If you come to support anything, come to support this historic building … a building we almost said goodbye to a couple months ago.
7 – Student Tickets/LGBT Nights
$10 student tickets. I.D. required. Need I say more about that? (Didn’t think so.)
Due to popular demand, The Ritz Theatre will be adding an LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered) night for The Wild Party on Wednesday, May 14th at 7:30pm. Stay after the show for a talkback with the director and select cast members.
6 – The Ensemble, aka “The Gang”
Holy cow, this cast is GOOD. REALLY GOOD. Outside of the four leads, you have the backbone of the entire production – “the gang”, aka the rest of the party’s guests. They are so infused with their characters and each every single one of them offer something different and unique. So if you ever get tired of looking at Queenie, Kate, Black and Burrs, don’t worry, there is plenty more story going on amongst the party guests than you may initially realize when you sit in your seats.
5 – Brian Rivell
We often joke that Brian is “The Bob Fosse of South Jersey”, but really, Brian Rivell is simply Brian Rivell. There is nobody else out there like him. Nobody directs like him, nobody choreographs like him, and I have personally never seen a person so passionate and emotionally invested into a show and its characters than Brian is with this show. What’s great about Brian is that you know that whenever you sit down to see a Brian Rivell-directed show, you’re in for three things: 1 – originality, 2 – GREAT dancing, and 3 – believability.
I am so honored to have the opportunity to work with this man again.
4 – Kris Clayton, aka “Burrs”
I really wish I could go into detail about Kris’ journey rehearsing for the leading male of the show, “Burrs”. I would go into detail, but all you need to know is that he is so friggin’ good. There is no need for us to talk about his amazing journey right now when we all see the final product he has brought onto the stage. As Burrs, he lives in the moment in every single scene, and it is so beautiful to watch from my viewpoint as his counterpart and enemy. He gives me so much to work with, and that’s all I could ever ask for as an actor.
3 – Jennie Knackstedt, aka “Kate”
Instigating, pathetic and desperate, yet insanely free-spirited – the attributes that describe the memorable character of “Kate”. Jennie (who is neither pathetic nor desperate, I promise) finds a way to perfectly embody this character that we all love to hate and hate to love. Jennie is so much fun to watch and even more fun to perform alongside. And more importantly, I get to listen to her perfectly wail the show’s most difficult jazz and rock riffs, night after night after night. I swear, I could listen to her sing all day. (Well … as long as she’s not directly next to my ear. #belter)
2 – The Story
In addition to writing the music for this show, Andrew Lippa also wrote the book to this show. He focuses the story on the two main couples (Queenie, Burrs, Black and Kate), and produces fully realized characters that are realistically flawed and conflicted. Lippa somehow infuses an overriding tone that suggests the potential for more violence and conflict that creates an overall effect of sustained dramatic tension matched by very few musicals.
What you’ll find tough while watching this show is the fact that there is no hero or villain. Every single person on that stage has these flaws that technically make them all “the bad guy” and “the good guy”. And let me tell you, when everything finally clashes together in final 10 minutes of the show, you will get a theatrical climax unlike ANYTHING in musical theater history. Seriously, the ending of this show is heart-wrenchingly beautiful.
1 – Martha Wasser, aka “Queenie”
Honestly, if you come see this show for ONE reason – come see it to witness the beauty of Martha Wasser. Of course, Martha is insanely (and ridiculously) beautiful to look at in person and on stage, but the raw, open emotions that she lets the audiences in on as “Queenie” is truly spectacular to witness. She displays both depth and subtlety in her acting, bringing Queenie’s sass, manipulative intentions, intensity, and vulnerability to life. The role is vocally challenging in every regard, but Martha does so well with this material it’s quite scary.
On top of all of that, my character “Mr. Black” gets to fall in love with Martha’s Queenie every night. You would think that falling in love with someone over and over again would be difficult to do, but with her, it’s so easy. I swear, she gives me something new every time we walk onto that stage, and whatever she offers me, it’s completely irresistible. She’s a beautiful, talented, sexy, funny, and most importantly, believable Queenie. My personal favorite moment with her on stage is when I sit back and watch/listen to her sing “Maybe I Like It This Way” a couple inches away from her. She is so real and I can clearly see the pain and confusion on her face. It’s gorgeous to watch. In other words, I have the best seat in the house.
Mr. President, what are your thoughts on Martha Wasser?
I know this was a lot to read. (If you made it to this point, congratulations, I’ll buy you a drink at The Manor after the show. Seriously, I will.)
Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party is a mature, intense, and melodic musical, and I am so excited for people to see our version of it. Really, this is a rare show, and if you get the chance to come check it out, please do. We’d love to have you at our little party. 😉 You won’t regret it.
The Wild Party continues at The Ritz Theatre from now until May 25th. For a complete performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit the official Ritz website at http://www.RitzTheatreCo.org, or call at 856-858-5230.
Also, be sure to LIKE the official Ritz Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/RitzTheatreCo.
Visit my official website at http://www.KyrusKeenan.com.