Constellation Theatre Company has turned itself into a musical powerhouse over the last few years with strong productions of Avenue Q and Urinetown. The cozy dimensions of the Source Theatre place the audience close enough to feel the performers’ sweat. Andrew Lippa’s Jazz Age grindfest The Wild Party sustains the athletic choreography (by Illona Kessell) and crack musicianship (Walter McCoy is the music director) of those hits in a piece of material that’s more akin to the obscure fare on which Constellation built its reputation. Weirdly, it’s one of two musicals first produced in 2000 that took its inspiration, and its title, from the same Joseph Moncure March narrative poem written in 1928. (Lippa’s Off-Broadway version is most remembered, if it is, for starring a pre-Wicked Idina Menzel.) It tells of Queenie and Burrs, a torch singer and a clown, respectively, who enjoy a torrid connection until both their eyes wander. They throw a shindig to spice things up. Queenie finds a new lover in Mr. Black and Burrs finds a gun.
Well, no one is here for the plot. But Lippa’s songs—a pastiche of blues, jazz, and gospel—make a terrific platform for Farrell Parker and Kari Ginsburg (as Queenie and Kate, a party girl who’s high on more than just the bathtub punch) to slink their stockings off and sing their hearts out, and for designers Tony Cisek (the gilded set), A.J. Gruban (lights), and Erik Teague (costumes) to juxtapose Gatsbian excess with addiction and poverty in Queenie and Burrs’ Manhattan apartment. It’s all smoking jackets and highball glasses and garters and “getting away with moiduh” accents until someone gets hurt, and someone has to get hurt so the show can end. The ladies in the large cast tend to overpower the fellas, vocally and in terms of stage presence. Ian Anthony Coleman seems a little bit too milquetoast to win over Parker’s jaded singer, and Jimmy Mavrikes’ Burrs is never volatile enough to be truly scary. But it all sounds and looks great. Who cares if you actually believe it?
At Source Theatre to Oct. 29. 1835 14th St. NW. $25–$55. (202) 204-7741. constellationtheatre.org.