This weekend, the Colorado College Music Department presents their annual spring musical. This year they will be putting on a production of The Wild Party by Andrew Lippa. The musical was developed off-Broadway from a 1928 narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March.
The musical, directed by Dan Fosha, tells the story of two vaudeville performers, Queenie and Burrs, and their torrid relationship. It is set in Queenie and Burrs’ apartment as they host, as the name says, a wild party with their eccentric friends including Queenie’s close friend Kate and Kate’s date, newcomer Mr. Black. The story is a progressive shedding of clothes and inhibition.
The musical has definitely remained loyal to its source material; the style of the ‘20s pervades the entire show. The lighting is a lush, soft pink akin to that of a lounge. Rumbling jazz music is performed live on stage as an accompaniment. The men are dapper in tuxedo tails. The women twirl in dropped waist skirts. Prop booze flows. Everything has the feeling of tawdry glitz.
The angelic Queenie, loved by all, opens with a soft purr of a voice that transforms into a powerful cry for happiness and understanding. Senior Jessica Higgins is a beautiful Queenie as she portrays the difficulty of living your life as a display, always desired and pressured by others. As Queenie, Higgins switches quickly between seduction and raw honesty.
“I absolutely love the role of Queenie,” said Higgins. “It’s hard to say what my favorite part of the role has been because I love so much about it, but I definitely appreciate that she’s a very complicated and conflicted character, which makes her interesting to play. Plus she has some really great songs that are just so fun to perform.”
Queenie is juxtaposed to Kate, portrayed by senior Mariah Weaver. Kate smashes into the scene, loud and brash. Weaver balances both Kate’s lively bravado and deep-seated insecurities. Kate seems desperate to prove to an indifferent party crowd that her life is fabulous and enviable.
While Weaver had fun portraying Kate’s aggressive sexuality, she admits there were some challenges with the musical, particularly the dance numbers.
“None of us are dancers, except [Trevon], so when you notice that [Trevon] looks so good it’s because he’s a dancer. So this was a really dance-heavy show and getting all of us classically-trained vocalists to dance was an ongoing process,” said Weaver.
The show features many group dance numbers with clear ‘20s roots in the choreography. The dance numbers are fun, if a bit chaotic. Though at a drunken bacchanal style party, a little chaos seems fitting.
Queenie’s violent partner Burrs, the wicked clown, is played by senior Michael Leveille. Burrs is perverse in his conflation of sexuality and violence. Leveille’s portrayal is fascinating and horrifying to watch. Every character choice, even a twitch of the eyebrows, seems carefully selected to convey Burrs’ unbalanced and dangerous personality. Burrs’ connection to humanity becomes more and more distant as he masks himself in his clown makeup.
“The most challenging part has been trying to portray Burrs and his relationship with Queenie in a truthful and respectful way,” said Leveille. “This show deals with issues surrounding abusive relationships and domestic violence and we didn’t want to portray these issues in ways that were overly degrading or casual.”
Sophomore Trevon Newmann is a convincing Mr. Black. As the newcomer to the crowd, Black is alternatively stunned and intrigued by the raucous scene. Though he is Kate’s date, Black quickly becomes enamored with Queenie. This suits Kate, who has designs on Burrs, just fine. Newmann as Black is earnest in his affection for Queenie, despite her involvement with Burrs.
“We can’t watch these characters and think they are either good or bad,” said Newmann. “I don’t think we can watch the show and think we are better than them. Mr. Black is not exactly a good guy. However, he’s not the worst guy at the party. Everyone else is on a whole different level. He just wants to follow his heart even when it’s not the best idea.”
It’s a busy production. Scenes erupt constantly all over the stage as the many party guests love and fight. Sometimes it can be frustrating to have your attention torn; as you focus on a song on one side of the stage, a tease of scene seems to be happening out of the corner of your eye. The spread-out stage and the constant presence of multiple performers leave limited lighting choices for the production.
The department has put a trigger warning on the show for depictions of sex, sexual assault, and domestic violence. While some moments were disturbing, they were clearly chosen for substance not sensationalism. Performances are April 8 and 9 at 7:30 p.m. and April 10 at 3 p.m. in Packard Hall.