A roaring good time: Out of the Box invites audiences to ‘The Wild Party’

The production of "The Wild Party," adapted from a once-banned poem, will be turned into an actual party for the audience.
The production of “The Wild Party,” adapted from a once-banned poem, will be turned into an actual party for the audience.

When Out of the Box’s Samantha Eve put out the call for actors for “The Wild Party,” Andrew Lippa’s musical based on Joseph Moncure March’s Prohibition Era poem of the same title, she got a surprise.

“We had responses from people all over the place. I had someone write me from Florida (who wanted to audition).” Turns out that “The Wild Party” is on many musical actors’ to-do lists, with its wealth of meaty roles and its smart lyrics. Everybody wants to get invited; it’s that kind of party. It’s also an Out of the Box production in which a majority of the cast members are new to the company.”

“The Wild Party” recounts a crazy night in the life of tempestuous couple Queenie (Rachel Short) and Burrs (Justin Bryant Rapp), who decide to invite over their raucous friends for a night of bathtub gin and debauchery. The guests are common types for the time: a lesbian called Madeline (Deborah Bertling), a thug called Eddie (J.D. Driskill), a dimwit call Mae (Katherine Bottoms), the d’Armondo Brothers (Donnie Ross and Christian Watts) who are actually lovers, and Queenie’s frenemy Kate (Ms. Eve), who arrives with the handsome Mr. Black (Musique). Like the best parties, it gets a little out of control, but unlike most it ends in a darker place.

Mr. March’s poem had fallen out of public consciousness, in part by being banned upon publication in 1928 for its decadent content, and again by a faithless film adaptation starring Raquel Welch and James Coco in 1975.

Comic artist Art Spiegelman, having been introduced to the poem by William S. Burroughs, published an illustrated edition in 1994, subtitled “A Lost Classic.” This time Mr. March got his due and in 2000, there were two competing musicals based on his poem.

Michael John LaChiusa’s version made it to Broadway; the Andrew Lippa version played off-Broadway. Mr. Lippa’s version is the one Out of the Box prefers, as well as the one that earned Mr. Lippa a Drama Desk Award. He went on to earn a Tony Award nomination for his musical version of “The Addams Family.”

Mr. Lippa’s score tips its hat to Kurt Weill and Stephen Sondheim, and Out of the Box recently produced another Lippa musical, “John and Jen.” The sound of that musical is worlds away from this one.

“The poem has a wealth of material of the inner lives of these characters,” says Mr. Rapp. “A good three-quarters of the lyrics are straight from the poem, so it’s a good home source for the story we’re telling.”

“A lot of the shows we do tend to focus on relationships and personalities and the dirty, weird parts of humanity that are still part of us today,” says director Ms. Eve. “A lot of these characters have really interesting personalities, and was one of the reasons I’ve been wanting to do this show for a really long time . . . There are no one-dimensional characters in the show.”

Because this is such a special project for Ms. Eve, she is turning the production into a party itself. There will be tables and food and drink for the audience, and the musical will take place among it. Audience members might find themselves sitting next to one of the characters. And the music is being provided by a small ensemble that last played in Out of the Box’s production of “Bare.”

“I’m excited about making this interactive,” Ms. Eve says. “If we were going to do it for a musical, this is the one, because of the time period, the vaudeville element, and the way the musical is written. It’s storytelling. Characters break the wall, they tell the story directly to the audience and it makes it easier to connect. It’s something new that we’re trying and if it works out well we hope to do more concerts and find new ways to present shows.”

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday April 11
Where: Center Stage Theater, Paseo Nuevo
Cost: $35 on-stage cabaret table seating, $28 general, $15 student
Information: outoftheboxtheatre.org, 963-0408

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