Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Outré Theater Company: The Wild Party (4 reviews)

Outré Theater Company made its South Florida Debut with its production of Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party on November 23, 2012.
Based on Joseph Moncure March’s popular 1928 epic poem of the same name, The Wild Party features characters Queenie and Burrs, a passionate pair of 1920s vaudevillians. Queenie throws a party to put some fire back into their relationship, inviting a prizefighter, a hooker, a theater producer, the flamboyant and incestuous d’Armano brothers, and other sordid creatures of the night. Fueled by Prohibition booze, cocaine, and mad dancing, the party heats up and things get ugly as the two lovers test each other’s limits.
Skye Whitcomb directed a cast that included Sabrina Lynn Gore, Tom Anello, Christina Groom, Mark Brown-Rodriguez, Sharyn Peoples,  Ben Somor, Courtney Poston, Mickey Jaiven, Giordan Diaz, Luis E. Mora, Kaitlyn O’Neill, Emilie Papp, Julia Rodriguez-Buis and Trent Stephens. Musical direction by Kristen Long and choreography by Michelle Petrucci.

Mary Damiano reviewed for SFGN:
Style over substance rules in The Wild Party, the debut production from Outre Theatre Company. The musical, by Andrew Lippa, is set in the Roaring ’20s, the era of Prohibition, jazz, flappers and decadence.  But it takes more than evoking an era to make a good musical.
It’s a slight story, with zero character development and an interesting score.  It’s an ambitious project and clearly Outre wanted to make a splashy debut.  Unfortunately, the company took a dive into the shallow end of the pool.
The live band overpowers the performers to the extent that lyrics are unintelligible. Musical director Kristen Long needs to find a balance so the singers don’t have to compete with the musicians.  There were other sound problems as well, during the Sunday performance, including problems with mics and a general muffled quality.
At first, the lighting design by Devon Garbus feels sexy and atmospheric, but then devolves into dark.  Not the kind of dark that fits the mood of the play, but just dark.  Like, vaudeville must not be paying well because poor Queenie and Burrs can’t afford electricity.  Or candles.  That kind of dark.
There are some bright spots, figuratively speaking.  Sharyn Peoples is one of the few cast members who can be heard above the music, and she belts out “An Old- Fashioned Love Story” with panache.  Mickey Jaiven and Courtney Poston, playing a fighter and his flapper, are wonderful together on the duet, “Two of a Kind.”  Ben Solomor, as a pint-sized, mute dancer, packs more emotion into his lovely ballet solo, “Jackie’s Last Dance” than exists in the rest of the show.

Sabrina Gore as Queenie and Tom Anello do well individually—they have great voices and each have some spotlight moments---but they have no chemistry, so it’s hard to buy their tempestuous relationship. They are supported successfully by Christina Groom, as a boozy southern belle who wants her claws in Burrs, and less successfully by Mark Brown-Rodriguez, who finds a special connection with Queenie.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Tragedy suffused opening night at Outré Theatre Company’s inaugural production of the dark musical The Wild Party, but it wasn’t the story of Jazz Age hedonists plummeting through a doomed love quadrangle.

It was so many hard-working artists’ work going down the toilet because of the worst sound of any production since Actors Playhouse’s infamous Hairspray last season.
Aggravating matters was Devon Garbus’ chiaroscuro lighting design, which was appropriately murky, but left people upstage singing in darkness and dancers plugging away in the foreground, also in darkness.
Through it all, the cast and musicians hung in there, giving everything they had in energy and commitment. But it’s nearly impossible to fairly review the show because you couldn’t hear what we assume are strong affecting voices let alone appreciate the lyrics of this sung-through musical.
Scraping away the sound problems, which may get better with time, the production has obvious virtues and additional problems.
Gore (terrific in Outré’s reading last May of tick…tick..BOOM!) created a credible figure insanely in love with a man who abuses her, but who has just enough ego left to want to punish him. Tall and lithe, Gore’s eyes betrayed a soul awash in sadness with little hope of escape – in part because she doesn’t want to. Gore made us believe Queenie’s anger that drives her to vengeance, then her surprise that Black might rescue her heart, then her agony over Burrs’ fate. Gore’s voice caressed or attacked a song as the score demanded.
We almost never heard Anello’s voice. But his smoldering Pagliacci performance had an intense brooding physicality that communicated a proclivity to violence borne out of self-disgust and a recognition of the dead end in his life. His serial killer eyes, pronounced widow’s peak and vulture’s hunched shoulders were a wonderful counterpoint to his maniacal grin and clown makeup in his big production number “Let Me Drown.”
Brown-Rodriguez cut a handsome figure, strapping and quietly sexy with hair in 1970s cornrows. He delivered an outsider who is restrained, almost a naïf in this den of debauchees, until he falls for Queenie. He’s the least persuasive of the principal actors, and while he had a decent voice, often you couldn’t hear him even when the orchestra was subdued.
The real standout of the night was the charismatic Groom as the party girl Kate, a magnetic presence with a Kewpie doll face, bowtie lips and the maniacal gleam of Chuckie from the Child’s Play movies. Supple and lissome, Groom slinked around like a ravenous female panther stalking her prey, a prey that she blithely changed from minute to minute before she settled on Burrs.  In her second-act curtain raiser “The Life of the Party,” she got a chance to show off her singing chops, but also a bent for movement that seemed carnality made flesh.
In its admirable ambition, Outré not only sprang for a large cast but a nine-piece band led by musical director Kristen Long, which provided the essential depth and texture...
Michelle Petrucci’s choreography captured the energy and intensity in rousing ensemble blowout numbers. Often forming the entire company in a V-formation, she had them dance at the audience with an aggressive ferocity...
The one unalloyed triumph was Sean McClelland’s set design of a two-tiered, dilapidated garret apartment... From the broken skylights to the fifth-hand furniture to the weatherworn slats, the environment reflected the moral rot of the characters.  Especially telling were two large clock faces as if the apartment was inside a clock tower (think Hugo or The Hudsucker Proxy), a fine metaphor for a world whose time will run out with the imminent stock market crash.
It’s hard to evaluate Skye Whitcomb’s direction. Sometimes he deftly placed his large cast around the set and sent characters into the audience to envelop them in the action. He also creates the requisite tone of a boozy, blurry nightmare, as well as deserving credit for having the courage to tackle the show in the first place as Outré’s artistic director.

But he was guilty of inexplicable missteps. For instance, Queenie has a major introspective ballad that is staged with her back to most of the audience. He also directed his secondary characters to constantly be interacting, laughing quietly, imbibing, petting and pawing each other. This would have worked better if the lighting designer had done a better job highlighting the characters who needed to be the center of attention at any given moment; instead, the crowd’s authentic busy-ness distracted from where the audience was supposed to be looking.
We were really pulling for this one, but Outré will have to solve the sound problems before we’d encourage folks to attend this party.
It seems that they did work on the problems with the sound system; while Christine doesn't mention it, Richard Cameron specifically states that the sound system was largely replaced after the opening night. - ed.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
In picking that musical, Outré Theatre Company and artistic director Skye Whitcomb are making a statement about what this troupe intends to be: a company willing to embrace challenging material, large-cast shows and young talent.
On the plus side are the way The Wild Party showcases certain musical theater actors who ought to be seen more often on the region’s stages, most notably Sabrina Gore as the restless showgirl Queenie and Christina Groom as the troublemaker Kate. Outré has also invested in an artful nightmare of a set by the talented Sean McClelland, and it isn’t relying on recorded musical tracks...
On the minus side are the sound design, which renders too many lyrics completely unintelligible; the lighting design, which sometimes leaves key actors shrouded in darkness while supporting characters who are doing nothing can be seen perfectly well; and that band, which drowns out the singers whenever it plays at top volume. The best musical in the world (not that Lippa’s Wild Party rises to that lofty level) can’t connect with an audience unable to see or understand what’s going on.
Whitcomb and choreographer Michelle Petrucci keep the 15-actor cast moving, hoofing, frolicking and, in an orgy scene that implausibly eschews nudity, hooking up.
The leads blend well in duets, trios and, on Poor Child, as a quartet. Gore’s voice on Out of the Blue, Maybe I Like It This Way, Tell Me Something and How Did We Come to This? is lovely, though occasionally she sings so softly that she’s hard to hear, and a few of her notes are a shade flat. Groom makes Kate a mini Ethel Merman, tearing it up on The Life of the Party. Brown-Rodriguez injects the jazziest notes into his solos and duets, and his I’ll Be Here is haunting. Anello, who has a powerful voice, does his job in making Burrs a thoroughly despicable human being who slips into madness, though he and Gore never seem credible as a couple, even in the fleeting lust the two share at the beginning of the show.

With the departure of several key South Florida companies, particularly over the past year and a half, Outré is a welcome addition to the theater community. Here’s hoping its learning curve is a brief one.
Richard Cameron wrote for The Examiner:
The production now has all new sound equipment. Congrats to David Hart for working with the issue of the venues old system, now everyone will be able to hear the wonderful performers. Remember this is their first show at this venue, and they corrected the sound quickly after the first night. Outre Theatre is still building a company from scratch.
The sky is the limit for this creative production team and The Outre Theatre Company. They are the founders for a new generation of theatre. Florida patrons should do all they can to support their incredible efforts. The live band with "Nine" instruments was equal to a Maltz Jupiter production, the choreography by Michele Petrucci creative, and the dance solo by Ben Solmor brilliant.
"An old fashioned love story" by Sharyn Peoples (Madelaine) is one of the best in the show. It was fun to see the growth from Alvaro D'Amico (Phil) who just a few years ago was performing in South Plantation High School's musicals and now has a few professional productions under his belt. Christina Groom has a wonderful voice a with a pop nasal quality and is effective in her role. Sabrina Gore (Queenie) is the star and lives up to the part. Tom Anello (Burrs) plays the menacing lover of Queenie his voice and acting are wonderful, however his choice in physicality is a bit distracting. Tom would be more effective in the role if he stood tall with a menacing presence not an affected stance with his head.

The direction from Skye Whitcomb is admirable. Perfecting this difficult material with an unbalanced level of talent was his biggest challenge. Most times the direction was pure joy.
Outré Theater Company presents The Wild Party at Mizner Park Cultural Arts Studio through December 9, 2012.

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