Andrew Lippa’s “The Wild Party” was the finale of the Encores! Off-Center season, and it was a dazzling diadem to complete this Summer’s crown. Sutton Foster delivered a Queenie who was ice with fire dancing beneath, flirting with herself and ideas, as much as with the men and women at her party. Burrs, played by original off-Broadway cast member Steven Pasquale, had the razor-edge baddest boy charm that abrades even as it thrills. When Queenie determines to teach the womanizing Burrs a lesson, the bargain she makes will be paid in blood, the most valuable currency of all.
Adapted from Joseph Moncure March’s poem of the same name, we have the sweep of “Romeo and Juliet,” here with a soupçon of “Othello,” rounded out by “Frankie and Johnny.” This is a passion play set in Jazz Age New York, where each person represents a particularly flawed denizen of the scene at that time. Though really, it’s only time that changes, so you’d see some of your own coterie in Queenie’s and Burrs’.
Lippa is classically trained and the harmonies, assonance, and dissonance give frissons of chilly bumps up and down the spine that are delicious! Sprinkled in among the music, they make each song apart. One that thrilled the very friendly audience was Miriam Shor’s rendition of Madeline True’s louche lament-cum-would-be-lullaby, “An Old-Fashioned Story,” where she limns her lesbian lovelorn life. Her expressions were priceless and her gestures were as flamboyant as you’d expect from a retired stripper. Shor was brilliant.
When Encores! puts a cast together, performers like Foster and Pasquale are joined by Brandon Victor Dixon as Black and Joaquina Kalukango as the scheming Kate. This kind of casting would be impossible for an extended run, the talent is so gigantic! When these four sing “Poor Child,” the quartet is a grand slam, with each of the singers teasing out character and nuance that thrilled the audience at the July 18 evening performance that we attended. Equally brilliant was Pasquale’s “Let Me Drown,” where his heart was so close to the surface, you could feel his pain flowing around the scars of unknown origin, a harbinger of an ending that would surely be tragic for at least one of the triangle of Burrs, Black, and Queenie.
Burrs saw what he wanted and took what he needed from Queenie, reducing her soul. Black saw what he wanted in Queenie as well, but he saw a Queenie that could-be, superimposed on the Queenie of the now. By the time come hither becomes “Come With Me,” the stage looks like a detail of Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights.” But the dénouement is heart-pounding, with the predicted tragic ending. Lippa’s orchestrations and crazy quilt of styles and emotion all work together as one, for an evening that had us humming and discussing for the next two days. Bravo, Encores! Off-Center! Looking forward VERY much to next summer!
Be sure to check out the entire new season at www.NYCityCenter.org
for more information and make some plans with your woman or man for a hot-hot-hot New Year!