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The Wild Party at Carnegie Mellon Drama

An uneven musical inspired by 1920s nightclub culture.

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Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama's production of Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party, a 2000 musical based on the 1928 poem of the same name, is a jazzy 1920s-nightclub-inspired show about people getting drunk and yelling at each other. This makes it an excellent substitute for people who can't make it all the way out to Lawrenceville.

Queenie (played here by Claire Saunders) and Burrs (Brian Muller) are two performers in love, whose emotions run high and lead to conflict almost constantly. As the show opens, they have yet another fight. Queenie's planned revenge is to throw a party and make Burrs jealous of an as-yet-undecided partygoer.

An interesting note about director Matthew Gardiner and choreographer Tome Cousin: In a show about performers, the most vaudevillian numbers end up among the least memorable. Where the show excels is the party scenes, when the set, employing a pair of rotating platforms, becomes a syncopated whirlwind of activity. With only 12 performers, the cast manages to crowd the entire stage, creating a real party atmosphere.

That said, you ought to be aware that this is a production whose choreographer somehow decided a fight scene needs actors moving in slow motion. It's a throwback — but not to 1928.

As The Wild Party is told almost entirely through song, you can see the gap between the songs Lippa enjoyed writing, where the fun is infectious, and ones written out of duty to the plot, which are just dire. The four or five that hit really hit, but it's not until halfway through the first act that you hear a single one worth humming.

I was also surprised by how uninspired the show's depiction of sex was; characters just sort of stripped and humped in their underwear. Then there's the second number, which features what I can only describe as a doo-wop rape scene. Musicals are weird.

Pay special attention to the thankless role of Kegs, played by one Jimmy Nicholas — stuck in leather pants with the same haircut as Neil from The Young Ones — who gets precious little material to work with, but made me laugh twice just through wordless reactions to things.

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