Sunday, October 02, 2016

There’s a ‘Party’ Going On With Iron Crow


Cast of The Wild Party   Photo: Rob Clatterbuck
I’ve attended some wild parties in my day, but The Wild Party currently being presented by Iron Crow Theatre at their venue at the Baltimore Theatre Project takes the cake.  Decadence rife with minimal clothing worn by some of the guests, abundant booze, love making, sexual ambiguity, a developing dangerous love triangle, jealousy and violence would certainly count as wild.  I bet the chips and dip were spicy, too.  And it’s mostly done to song!
Sean Elias, the new artistic director and CEO for Iron Crow, directs a young talented company in this eccentric musical, which is only the second one since Iron Crow’s inception in 2009 (Hedwig and the Angry Inch).  #hocoarts

Iron Crow, Baltimore’s only queer theatre, prides itself on being edgy and mysterious, dark and unconventional with a strong infusion of queerness.  Kicking off its 2016-17 Season, The Wild Party encompasses these characteristics for sure, and with the level of talent displayed and remarkably creative burlesque-like costuming by Aaron Barlow a.k.a. Betty O’Hellno, it is one of their more entertaining productions. 
The Wild Party is adapted from Joseph Moncure March’s 1928 poem of the same name.  The show in which Andrew Lippa, wrote the book, music and lyrics, opened Off-Broadway in 2000 and received the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music and the the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical.

Though other characters play significant roles, the principal story takes place in the 1920’s and centers on Queenie and Burrs—her abusive and violent lover. They decide to hold this epic party in the hope of escaping, albeit briefly, their own problematic relationship.  Queenie decides to make Burrs jealous, and when Kate shows up with a mysterious man named Mr. Black, trouble brews, a love triangle drama unfolds, and we’ll leave it at that.
The colorfully odd guests are attired in an eclectic array of costumes that challenge gender norms including young men wearing red stilettos.  Some guests are barely dressed at all.  What a party!

From the entrance in the rear of the stage, they descend down the four steps into a lower level—a metaphor for the debauchery that awaits them. Ryan Haase’s clever set is a bit off center, and I’m sure purposely so, to offer the audience yet another metaphor. Lighting Designer Janine Vreatt’s effective use of dim illumination that creates a foggy, dreamlike quality, underscores the mood.
Though there is some dialogue, most of the plot is carried out by music—a strong attribute given the quality of some of the songs and the vocal prowess by the cast.  Unfortunately, there had been opening night issues concerning evenness with the sound and mics, and hopefully this will be resolved in subsequent performances.

Mr. Elias keeps the action hopping (it is a wild party) and effectively ensures that the actors not featured in a particular scene are still engaging in some form of activity in the background though not distracting.  This adds to the quality of the production.
A few of the songs don’t possess the kind of memorable melodies that one would hum exiting the theater.  But the lyrics from most are quite effective in weaving the story together.  Among the better numbers are, “Raise the Roof,” “Out of the Blue,” “Poor Child,” “A Wild, Wild Party,” “Of All the Luck,” “What is it About Her,” “I’ll Be Here” and “Come With Me.”

Ben Shaver ably conducts the five-piece orchestra situated in the rear of the theater.
There is some dancing under Robert Mintz’s choreography.  However, the relatively small stage containing a number of props and furnishings as well as a sizable cast does not allow for extravagantly free-wheeling moves.

As the tormented Queenie, Allison Bradbury is riveting.  She acts and sings with proficiency and is called on to perform in most of the show’s ballads as a solo or in groups with her sultry soprano voice holding up well by the end.  Her moving song, “Maybe I Like it This Way,” is excellently performed as she reflects on why she puts up with Burrs.
Justin Mazzella turns in a stunning performance and is convincing as the violently passionate Burrs. He displays solid acting skills and range as well as strong vocals in portraying this demanding role.  He performs particularly well with Ms. Bradbury in "Out of the Blue."

The vibrant Kate, who mightily attempts to seduce Burrs, is played effectively by Jessica Bennett.  She performs well in her solos “Look at Me Now,” “The Life of the Party” and the group number “Poor Child.”   
As Black, the man who falls for Queenie, Sylvern Groomes, Jr. does well and is particularly strong in the smooth ballad “I’ll Be Here.”

Valerie Holt plays the lesbian Madeline True, one of the guests, who is searching for love at the party. Her solo “An Old-Fashioned Love Story” was unfortunately marred by audio problems caused by either having a defective mic or she was not mic’d at all.  From what was heard, Ms. Holt has a nice voice.
Allison Bradbury as Queenie and Justin Mazzella as Burrs
Photo: Rob Clatterbuck
Another guest, Eddie, is played energetically by Jesse Marciniak.  He enjoys pugilism and is not shy about flexing, adding an amusing touch.

The lover-brothers Oscar D’Armano (Adam Cooley) and Phil D’Armano (Brice Guerriere) with their flower-laden wigs also add comedy to the already intense party. Appropriately, they perform well in the fun number, “A Wild, Wild Party.”  
Other fine cast members include Emily Small as Delores, Katheryne Daniels as Mae, and Fred Fletcher-Jackson as Sam.

And then there are Terrance Fleming as Eddie and Nick Fruit as Max who look impressively athletic in their um, skimpy costumes.  I told you this is a wild party.
Not all wild parties end well, and this is no exception.  However, it would be wise to get a ticket and attend this party.  You have to provide your own costume though.
Iron Crow’s 2016-17 Season is off to a good start with this well-directed and well-performed production.  It should give all involved something to crow about.

Running time. Two hours and 15 minutes with an intermission.

Advisory: Contains sexual situations, partial nudity and profanity and is not recommended for children.
The Wild Party plays weekends through October 9 at the Baltimore Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St., Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, visit online

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