Reviews - Theatre
“Yip! Yip! Yaphank! Centenary Celebration
American Classics’ revue, YIP! YIP! YAPHANK (Irving Berlin’s World War I Soldier Show) pulls out all the stops. Berlin became a citizen, became famous for his popular songs, got drafted into the Army and convinced the Brass he’d be more useful writing them a show. Everyone, not just the doughboys, knows Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning (Someday I’m going to murder the bugler…) The American Classics’ combo, led by Joe Della Penna, included drums (Dean Groves), and of course, a bugler (Jason Huffman)!
Since 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the “War to End All Wars” you’ll be seeing a lot of historical footage but American Classics’ effort, for my vote, hits just the right notes. It seemed like a cast of thousands (really only 17) but they packed the Longy Stage in Cambridge with precision marching, not to mention an impressive precision tambourine drill from one of Berlin’s Minstrel Shows.
Just like the boys at boot camp (near Yaphank in Long Island) donned wigs and pearls, the American Classics ensemble dressed up as the famous Floradora Girls, led by AC founder Brad Conner as Ethan Sagin’s sweetie in Sterling Silver Moon. Ben Sears kicked off the bittersweet songs Berlin wrote to buck up his fellow infantrymen, with the charming Smile and Show Your Dimple (Light your face up and brace up).
Narrated by Peter A. Carey, AC found delightful parodies and more than a few show stopping sentimental songs like Joel Edwards’ gorgeous (Dream on, Little) Soldier Boy, sung with a humming chorus. If Brian De Lorenzo’s letter home to mother, (I Can Always Find a Little Sunshine in) The YMCA, didn’t already have us in tears, the barbershop harmony sold it, sliding into a heart-wrenching finish. Then the soldier boys trooped off the stage with the sobering We’re On Our Way to France. They returned for an encore of the original 1918 version (two decades before Kate Smith’s smash hit) of God Bless America, written to a slightly different tune. For an hour or so, you felt hopeful for a world dedicated to peace and prosperity. ” - Beverly Creasey
Joseph Moncure March’s 1928 epic poem about the roaring twenties, called THE WILD PARTY, is the inspiration for not one, but two musicals of the same name. The LaChiusa WILD PARTY played Boston a few seasons ago but the really wild WILD PARTY is the version by Andrew Lippa, now playing (and ripping off the roof) at New Rep through May 20th. Lippa knows just how to push the envelope and the New Rep production sends his music (The show is almost all sung, except for a few spoken rhyming couplets) into the stratosphere. You won’t find a more intense experience anywhere else this season. The pounding rhythms are relentless and the production numbers are nothing short of outrageous.
This vaudeville tone poem is so dark and dangerous that it may remind you of Kurt Weill at his cynical best. The quartets are operatic and the subject matter, like Rodgers’ SLAUGHTER ON TENTH AVENUE, celebrates the destructive underbelly of passion. New Rep has the rep for breathing edgy life into sardonic musicals like THE THREE PENNY OPERA or Sondheim—only this time, it’s Queenie instead of SWEENEY. Queenie (Marla Mindelle) is a drop dead gorgeous, Harlow-esque party girl who likes her men rough. Burrs (Todd Alan Johnson) is the vaudeville clown who can give her just what she wants.
You know the story. Someone will come between them and someone will suffer the consequences. Lippa’s daring coup lies in making the musical utterly riveting without making Queenie and Burrs the least bit sympathetic. Johnson’s ‘Mack the Knife’ had a magnetic charm about him but his Burrs is simply grotesque. (Lippa has composed a set of vulnerable inner monologues for each of them but I wasn’t convinced that either wouldn’t murder his own mother for the thrill.)
THE WILD PARTY, with its drunks, addicts and whores, is not a pretty picture of the l920s. What director Rick Lombardo has created with the material is a work of sheer power. You can’t help yourself: You’re in its thrall. Todd Gordon’s musical direction (not to mention his cameo) is without equal. Kelli Edwards’ choreography is part Jerome Robbins (Think Sharks and Jets) and part Twyla Tharp (Think birds of prey swooping in for the kill) and the company handles the dancing like gangbusters. I could go on and on—but suffice it to say New Rep has created a force of nature with their WILD production.
Leigh Barrett is spectacular as the Lesbian (“She [has the] quality I like: She’s alone.”) Sarah Corey is sexy and sassy as the savvy ex-whore and Maurice E. Parent is heartbreaking as the interloper. Ilyse Robbins and Jake Mosser are touching as the bruised boxer and his protective lady love. Brian De Lorenzo and Paul Giragos are quite amusing as the strange “producers” of the show within the show. Jeremy Amasa Towle gets a nifty solo in his skivvies and bowler hat. (Frances Nelson McSherry’s costumes for everyone are the cat’s meow.) The set (by Janie E. Howland) is jazzy and chic. The music is astonishing. The performances are larger than life. As Lippa says with one of his songs, it’s a “Juggernaut.”” - Beverly Creasey
“Trashy and wicked, 'Party' is a lot of fun
WATERTOWN — "Repulsive and fascinating, vicious and vivacious," one critic said of Joseph Moncure March's poem "The Wild Party" when it was first published, just before the Twenties stopped roaring. In the decades since, this lurid, violent, rhyming saga of the vaudeville dancer Queenie, her lover Burrs the clown, and the deadly fete they throw one night has lost none of its nasty allure.
March's poem was quickly banned in Boston. William Burroughs called it the book that made him want to be a writer. Art Spiegelman paid tribute with an illustrated edition in 1994. And "The Wild Party" inspired not one but two musical adaptations — one of which, the Andrew Lippa Off Broadway version, is now casting its dark glow on the New Repertory Theatre's stage.
Never having seen Michael John LaChiusa's version, I won't join the fierce debate over the relative merits of the two musicals. But in New Rep artistic director Rick Lombardo's glamorously decadent staging, Lippa's show packs the smooth, deadly punch of a shot of absinthe.
Janie E. Howland's terrific set establishes the mood from the opening scene. Funhouse mirrors gleam on the back wall of exposed brick; a larger rectangle to the side slyly morphs into a poster first of Queenie, then of Burrs, as we meet this bawdy, brawling pair. It only gets better — darker, meaner, tawdrier — as night falls and the temperature rises in their seedy flat.
Electric candles slither down on wires, a rumpled brass bed slides seductively into place as needed, an ancient Victrola hisses and blares, and even the apartment's filthy, depressing bathroom is evoked in dingy detail. This makes it easy for Lombardo to have a couple of key moments take place with one or another character ensconced on the toilet. And whether you love or hate that idea will give you a good sense of whether this is the musical for you. For certain, it's a directorial touch very much in the spirit of the piece.
Both March's poem and Lippa's setting of it (which blends jazz with more anachronistic idioms in a pulsing, intoxicating blur) are truly decadent — not in the debased chocolate-dessert sense that gets bandied about these days, but with the reek of true and troubling decay that lies at the word's root.
Queenie's a hard, mean dame, Burrs is a brutish lout, and neither one of them gets much in the way of redemption as the night wears on. That gives their battles and schemes a certain poisonous glamour, but it also lowers the emotional stakes. He beats her, she cheats on him, so what? — they're both rotten. And swirling around them is a crowd of equally repellent revelers: dancers and fighters, hookers and flirts. They all look corrosively gorgeous here, especially as Kelli Edwards's slinky choreography sends them strutting and preening around in Frances Nelson McSherry's delicious costumes, but it's hard to imagine any hearts beating under the silk and feathers. Which may be just your cup of hemlock.
Lombardo certainly serves it with panache, and he's assembled a magnificent cast to put it across.
Todd Alan Johnson's Burrs is just as terrifying as his Sweeney Todd was a few years back, just as vocally overpowering, and just as disturbing in his air of seductive menace. Aimee Doherty, who stepped in over the weekend for the ailing Marla Mindelle as Queenie, is a bit too sweet and fresh for the part, but her rich voice and delicately expressive face more than compensate. They're given strong backup by Sarah Corey and Maurice E. Parent as the pawns in their cheating game, though Corey's vivid belting sometimes sacrifices clarity for power. And Leigh Barrett has a wildly amusing turn as the lusting, lovelorn Madelaine True.
With a clear and insistent beat, Todd C. Gordon's musical direction keeps them all dancing and singing long into the night. There'll be hell to pay come morning, but perhaps that's the price of a wicked bash.” - Louise Kennedy
“‘Wild Party’ might be too wild for some viewers
Think of Queenie and Burrs as the Frankie and Johnny of the Roaring ’20s. Joseph Moncure March probably did when he wrote the 1928 full-length verse narrative ‘‘The Wild Party.’’
Pumping his poetry with the insistence of jazz and the envelope-pushing sexuality of the decade, the New York poet-journalist offended tender sensibilities and angered censors but nevertheless caught the unfettered spirit of his age in this sometimes frenetic, sometimes bluesy and very dark tale of a femme fatale and her abusive and cuckolded man who were doing each other wrong.
All of the fire of this singular poem blazes through in the torrid New Repertory Theatre staging of Andrew Lippa’s off-Broadway musical version of the same name. Against the fittingly unsentimental brick backdrop of Janie E. Howland’s stunning set, sexually adventurous Vaudeville entertainer Queenie (whose legs "were built to drive men wild") and scary clown Burrs ("mean and rough") play out an ultimately lethal game of competing agendas and inner drives.
Promising "no limits, no compromises," Queenie throws a party intended to be the wildest New York City has ever seen but also meant to test her volatile relationship with Burrs. Living up to its hype all too well, the title bash both slithers and dances its way to a night of booze and bawdiness ending in violence.
Lippa captures the rhyme and the raunchiness of the tantalizingly evocative March poem. His book captures the rich diversity of the guests and their individual odysseys at the party, while his score ranges smartly from jazz, blues and Latin stylings to music hall and circus themes.
A catchy dance entitled "The Juggernaut," crisply choreographed by Kelli Edwards, calls to mind the vibrant orchestrations of "West Side Story," while a rousing gospel-like ensemble "Let Me Drown" recalls a similar number in "Guys and Dolls." Other songs may favorably suggest Kurt Weill and Jule Styne as influences, but Lippa’s score has a vitality and a tunefulness all its own.
Is Lippa’s version closer to the March poem than John La Chiusa’s Broadway treatment of the same name? Without hedging, this critic enjoyed the latter as well - both in New York and locally at SpeakEasy Stage - with what appeared to be its greater emphasis on the Pagliacci-like qualities of Burr. Still, Lippa’s edition has a sensuality and a film noir ambience that seem even closer to the texture of the original work. In fact, New Rep artistic director Rick Lombardo has nailed both of those elements in a staging too adult for the squeamish (complete with tub and toilet in the vulgar scheme of things) but admirably true to its source.
As the party sizzles, characters recombine repeatedly in a sexual spectrum that Kinsey would endorse. The stylized orgy itself, with Queenie and her new interest Black center stage in bed and surrounded by other couples (all stripped down to underwear and lingerie) , catches both the steamy exploration of the ’20s and the pathos of lost souls.
As with such earlier musical triumphs as "The Threepenny Opera" and "Sweeney Todd" and the recent "Ragtime," New Rep’s ensemble strengths continue to shine. Todd Alan Johnson has all of Burr’s menace and melancholy, by turns leering and lonely. Amy Doherty, standing in for Marla Mindelle, finds all of Queenie’s emotional insecurity, especially in a kind of signature song called "Out of the Blue," though she could do with more abrasiveness as the tenacious hostess. Sarah Corey delivers instigator Kate’s cynicism and alienation, especially as she pairs up with Burrs. Maurice E. Parent brings a sensitivity to Black, arguably the only really sympathetic character in the lead quartet, in keeping with his insightful advice to Queenie and his low-key nature.
Standouts in support include Leigh Barrett’s mischievous lesbian Madeleine True and Jeremy Amasa Towle’s vulnerable bisexual Jackie. Towle, a member of the talented Snappy Dance Company, brings poetry and heartbreaking pathos to "Jackie’s Last Dance."
Frances Nelson McSherry taps the party’s evolving fortunes in her sharp period costumes. Lighting designer Franklin Meissner Jr., with the help of large mirrors above, supplies inspired shadows for orchestra solos and a meddlesome neighbor bothered by the party. "The Wild Party" may turn off theatergoers displeased with its frankness. Yet New Rep’s sublime staging makes Lippa’s melodic firestorm a five-alarm winner.” - Jules Becker
“The Wild Party
Role: Phil D'Armano
Director Rick Lombardo’s ensemble (eventually shedding flapper accouterment for period underwear) [gives] its all, both to the brassy musical numbers and to Kelli Edwards’s writhing, tumbling, circling choreography.” - Carolyn Clay
“On the Twentieth Century
Role: Porter "Cole
Ensemble-rich 'Century' Delivers Smooth Ride
With all the chamber productions of musicals in Boston these days, what a pleasure it is listening to a full-scale 21-piece orchestra under the expert direction of Michael Joseph let loose with Coleman's bright melodies.
Producer Deb Poppel and director Tony McLean have assembled a first-rate group of singers and dancers who, even with books in hand, bring such sprightliness to the proceedings that they seem to be enjoying themselves as much as the audience.
[Tony] McLean has put a terrific ensemble of singers and actors together. McLean also brings real polish to the stage, with ensembles entering and exiting like trains pulling into and leaving the station. This is such a joy-filled production that it makes this ''Twentieth Century" worth going back to.” - Ed Siegel
“On the Twentieth Century
Role: Porter "Cole"
Those who missed this TWENTIETH CENTURY must make do with these words, instead, and what I have tried to evoke cannot equal what its three lucky audiences experienced at the Majestic. Like a great orgasm, you just had to be there.” - Carl A. Rossi
Role: Aaron Wohl
Stewart F. Lane's production is terrific, as are the tight ensemble cast and the band, led by Steven Bergman. Chip Phillips, Peter Edmund Haydu, Paul Farwell, Brian De Lorenzo, Peter A. Carey, and Benjamin Discipio each make indelible characters out of the jazz-playing sextet.” - Ellen Pfeifer
Roles: Peter Coffin, Elijah, Fedallah, Crew
The actors are an accomplished blend of Boston and New York performers...The actors playing [the crew] acquit themselves admirably.” - Ed Siegel
— Boston Globe
Role: Giuseppe Zangara
As the production at the Lyric Stage makes profoundly and entertainingly clear: This is a great American musical... In short, it's just about everything that people ask from theater, and this production is almost everything that Sondheim and Weidman could ask from the Lyric theater...
The cast and musicians...are first-rate. The ensemble is so good that it's unfair to single out anyone. [Spiro] Veloudos has cast this musical with singers who are perfectly comfortable with Sondheim's most eclectic score and are fine actors to boot... This production of Assassins is to kill for.” - Ed Siegel
— Boston Globe
Roles: Peter Coffin, Elijah, Fedallah, Crew
Brian De Lorenzo is striking in several small roles, including a prophetic, ancient mariner and the mysterious Arab servant and harpooner whom Ahab produces from below decks at a crucial moment.” - Jon Lehman
Role: Aaron Wohl
The Gig [is] a funny and touching new musical based on Frank Gilroy's film of the same name. The Lyric Stage is presenting the show in its New England premiere. Highlights are the a cappella fugues in which the band members vocally impersonate the instruments they are supposed to play.
The cast, made up of local stage and cabaret stalwarts, is both unassumingly likable and in good voice. Chip Phillips is a sympathetic yet cheesy Marty, Brian De Lorenzo an intense if jaunty Aaron, and Benjamin DiScipio, whose baby-boy dentist character is the most comical, manages to be sweet and goofy.” - Carolyn Clay
Role: Giuseppe Zangara
The performances, by and large, are strong... Brian De Lorenzo (a concentrated Zangara) [is a] particularly accomplished singer... And if, in the end, Assassins proves a shot gone awry, at least it isn't – like so much candified if pyrotechnic musical theater – shooting blanks.” - Carolyn Clay
— Boston Phoenix
Role: Aaron Wohl
There is much to admire in Douglas J. Cohen's script and jazz-tinged score. (Especially smart is his use of scat singing to suggest the musical ensemble.) His main characters are nicely rooted in the real world and their conflicts feel genuine. There is fine work from everyone involved.
Stewart F. Lane's sleek staging is certainly a plus, as are Robert M. Russo's smart turntable set and projections, Gail Astrid Buckley's hideously appropriate 1970s costumes, and Steven Bergman's effective musical direction. What proves best about "The Gig" is that it succeeds without really trying too hard – it is a low-key winner.” - Robert Nesti
— Bay Windows
Role: Aaron Wohl
The Lyric's punchy production of Douglas Cohen's The Gig, like his No Way to Treat a Lady last season, sports a fine cast – and some great jazz thanks to Musical Director Steve Bergman. The songs don't stick around in your head, but what you get from The Gig is a carload of fascinating characters, and a terrific showstopper in Brian De Lorenzo's soft-shoe number "Benny Goodman".
Thoughtful, touching performances in Director Stewart Lane's focused production are turned in by De Lorenzo, Peter Carey and Paul Farwell, and on the distaff side by Kathy St. George and Elizabeth Asti.” - Beverly Creasey
The quartet blends a mixture of late 1950s and early '60s rock music and comedy with perfection. Comedic timing in a production such as this is essential, and the four young men had it down... De Lorenzo appeared to have found his niche as the affable Jinx... Southern New Hampshire is fortunate to see talented rising stars of the stage bring wonderful stories to life.” - Rick Dumont
— The Cabinet