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Stage review: Talented U. cast makes a rousing 'Party'

By Blair Howell

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, April 2 2012 12:57 p.m. MDT

Sara Kae Childs as Queenie and Jeffry Skiba as Burrs in "The Wild Party."

Amy Oakeson

"THE WILD PARTY,” University of Utah Studio 115, through April 8 at 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. matinees, $15-$12, 801-581-7100 or www.kingsburyhall.org

SALT LAKE CITY — A metaphoric cautionary tale of the tawdry decadence and social rebellion of the Roaring Twenties, “The Wild Party” relates the disintegrating romance between a chanteuse named Queenie and Burrs, a vaudeville clown.

At the University of Utah Department of Theatre, the staging of the off-Broadway musical is a roaring success.

In 2000, two productions coincidentally based on the same epic poem opened in New York City and, confusing theatergoers to no end, they were both named “The Wild Party.”

“The Wild Party” selected at the U. is by author-lyricist Andrew Lippa. It was nominated for 12 Drama Desk Awards, winning for Best Music, and also earned the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical. Lippa’s infectious score, shifting from pop to jazz to blues, includes amusing novelty songs and fiery ballads, and the breakout hit, “Raise the Roof,” is a stirring anthem.

In “The Wild Party,” the thrill-seeking Queenie hosts a variety of flapper-era archetypes at an all-night bash in her Manhattan studio apartment where bathtub gin is served nonstop. Queenie intends to openly humiliate the cruel Burrs and end their volatile, star-crossed affair, but, foreshadowing the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the results are more disastrous.

At the university’s Studio 115, there’s enough talent on display to warrant a longer run. While strongly supported by the large ensemble of invited revelers, the production is a showcase for the two leads who reveal an amazing level of presence, maturity and vocal chops. “The Wild Party” is full of challenges, but the pair of singer-actors deeply impress in this rousing production.

Sara Kae Childs is the blonde bombshell who plays Queenie. Childs has a beautiful, powerful voice, whether in her “Out of the Blue” solo or as she leads the energetic “Raise the Roof.” As Burrs, the temperamental “clown of renown,” Jeffry David Skiba shows a vocal timbre that is full of richness. Skiba and Childs’ duet that opens Act 2, “What Is It About Her?,” is emotionally satisfying.

Connor Norton as Queenie’s hard-living friend, Kate, sings with a strong belt in “Look at Me Now.” The duet for pugilist Eddie Mackrel (Austin John Smith) and his girlfriend Mae (Arielle Schmidt), “Two of a Kind,” adds comedy. But Elena Dern as Madeleine True is hysterically funny in “An Old-Fashioned Love Story.”

Director David Schmidt never lets the pace lag, and Christine Moore shows strength in her ability to choreograph the 24-member cast in the small stage space.

Not designed to be a please-all musical or suitable for youngsters, “The Wild Party” has some coarse portions. At its New York premiere, the show would have received a hard R rating. But, while retaining the full lyrics and text, much of the lewdness and physical brutality have been softened away in this production. Granted, the tawdry aspects that remain from the original can be more shocking on a stage than in a PG-13 movie.

Content advisory: alcohol, profanities and sexual situations

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