If you’re going to have a party to relaunch a London theatre then Michael John LaChiusa’s The Wild Party, which is heavy on the debauchery and light on plot, is a good choice.
It promised gin, skin and sin and almost delivered it with wild abandon but – well, was it me, but I thought it all rather tame. I was disappointed. It was like I’d been invited to one of Kate Moss’s epic birthday bashes only to find that their reputation for notoriety and sordid excess was nothing more than media hype.
Andrew Lloyd-Webber has taken over Mayfair’s St James Theatre, renamed it The Other Palace (which, it has to be said, doesn’t trip lightly off the tongue) and reopened it last night with a riotous tale of less than bright young things getting off their heads on coke, gin and sleeze.
His mandate for the theatre is that it will be a hub for creativity and experimentation, and its stages used for trying out and refining productions that may be heading into the West End.
It’s a bold move and you can see how The Wild Party fits into the concept, originating as it does, from a controversial 1920s poem and adapted by the American, LaChiusa into a musical.
But while its syncopated songs had the place humming there’s little story to get your teeth into. The show lasts two hours with a plot that could be summed up in about ten minutes. Queenie and her abusive husband, Burrs, throw a party..I waited for more but was left wanting.
Frances Ruffelle’s fading, gin-soaked, vaudeville star, Queenie, wanted a hedonistic booze and sex fuelled party, but what she got was a reality check. What started out as a fun night ended in profound disappointment, aided and abetted by one brief moment of high drama.
Where F Scott Fizgerald created glittering Gatsbyesque champagne parties for the era’s bright young things, here we have the flipside of the Jazz Age where the detritus, disillusioned and disappointed drown their sorrows to forget about their race, gender, religion or predicament.
Queenie and Burrs cling to a dream that their careers will take off while the other hangers-on from burlesque and vaudeville, just enjoy the moment.
Tiffany Graves can always be relied upon to play the wise-cracking blonde and you know that Ruffelle, Ako Mitchell and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt will impress with their powerful voices. But none of the characters are given any depth or flesh.
Everyone gets a turn with a solo song but it’s all rather formulaic.
Genesis Lynea and Gloria Obianyo play oddities, the D’Armano Brothers, who do most things together. I’m not sure why two women are playing men but it works.
Sebastian Torkia and Steven Serlin are a couple of middle-class schmucks, Gold and Goldberg, planning to open a theatre on Broadway – or Off Broadway – and spend the party pursued by real life Broadway star Donna McKechnie (who was applauded at her entrance) who plays a former legend hoping for another turn topping the bill.
The gag is that the beautiful and very well preserved McKechnie is in her 70s but the game diva pursues the much younger men with the relentless and dogged persistence of a rising starlet.
There’s a scene when John Owen-Jones’ repugnant Burrs lashes out at his guests with a speech that offends just about every racial, religious and sexual group and shocks an entire audience.
Once the veneer is stripped away The Wild Party becomes halfway interesting.
The Wild Party runs at April 1.
The seedy side of the Jazz Age. John LaChiusa’s The Wild Party is a full of gin, skin and sin – but very little plot.