Who Partied Best: Two “Wild Party” Musicals Premiere in Bay Area by Kevin M. Thomas

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The Bay Area is definitely the place for two wild parties.

A story that has always been under the radar, “The Wild Party” has been part of all mediums since it started as a poem in 1928 by Joseph Moncure March.

A fictionalized story of an infamous party of sex and drugs inspired by a real incident with silent film star Fatty Arbuckle,  “The Wild Party” was first made into a film in 1975 with Raquel Welch. It flopped.

WILD PARTY at the Ray of Light Theatre

WILD PARTY at the Ray of Light Theatre

Fast forward to the year 2000 and it became the source of TWO musicals – one on Broadway and one Off. Both received pretty good reviews and nominated for awards but neither production lasted long in New York, both running for less than 100 performances.

That brings us to today. Ray of Light Theatre continues its mounting stellar productions by bringing the Off-Broadway story to the San Francisco stage. Composer/lyricist/storyteller Andrew Lippa’s version may have been short-lived in New York, but it has played in theatre festivals and concert versions over the last dozen years, giving it cult status.

Early in June, Lippa’s version will also get an additional Bay Area interpretation with San Jose’s The Stage, opening next week.  It would have been fun if the Broadway version was being produced by one of these theatre companies, but it will be fun to compare the productions in any event.

The Ray of Light version is likely one of the best productions they’ve ever put on. With a cast impressively giving Broadway-level performances, the wonderful team is led by Joselyn Pickett as Queenie (the Welch part) in which she plays an up-and-coming starlet who is easily seduced by sex and drugs and being nothing more than a party girl. Her high caliber performance makes you think that no one else can revival her among the ensemble. In walks Alexandra Feifers, who holds a note in her first scene that is reminiscent  of Barbra Streisand. I became a fan instantly.

Another standout in the role of Mr. Black, a temptations for both women, is RaMond Thomas, whose silky voice and very sexy looks make it easy to see why he was chosen to play a role originated by Taye Diggs. They both have great personas on top of Hollywood good looks.

The entire ensemble is excellent but there is a wonderful dance sequence with Malakani Severson, who helps prove that Alex Rodriguez’ choreography in this scene as well as the entire show is award worthy.

The party has ended in SF, but an entirely different production of the same show is still raising the roof at San Jose’s The Stage.

WILD PARTY at San Jose's The Stage

WILD PARTY at San Jose’s The Stage

The Stage’s production is more intimate as the theatre seats surround three-quarters of the stage. So in this production, you can feel naughty up-close and personal.

Allison F. Rich plays Queenie in the South Bay. She’s in good voice and actually hits a real emotional core that, as the party continues, you can see the excitement drain from Queenie’s drugged-out eyes. You can tell by her great expressions that she feels the music. Courtney Hatcher as Kate find a lot of humor in the role…the polar opposite of SF’s Kate who towered above all in voice.

WILD PARTY at The Stage

WILD PARTY at The Stage

Some standouts in the cast include Carmichael “CJ” Blankenhip as Black, who is sexy for sure, but is a magnificent dancer (no wonder he’s is one of the choreographers with his wife Brett) and has a Teddy Pendergrass sultry tone. Theresa Anne Swain also stands out as Madelaine, whose humor and timing are reminiscent of a young Megan Mullally.

Then there’s Noelani Neal who has a wonderful stand out dance sequence towards the end of the second act. My ballet loving companion gives her high marks as well.

Not too late to catch The Stage’s “Party” as it runs through July 24. Get tickets and information at www.thestage.org.