The Wild Party | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Wild Party


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The Wild Party, Circle Theatre. When Art Spiegelman engineered the republication of Joseph Moncure March's Jazz Age narrative poem The Wild Party in 1994, complete with his own noirish illustrations, it was hailed by some as a lost classic. Rereading the book eight years later, after the hype has cooled, it's easy to see why March's doggerel was quickly forgotten in the first place.

Still, the reissued poem inspired a Broadway musical in 2000. And there's something touching about the talent and money Circle Theatre has thrown at Michael John LaChiusa's imperfect score and deeply flawed book, which he wrote with George C. Wolfe. Robert A. Knuth's set and Jeffrey Kelly's costumes perfectly re-create the tawdry, gin-soaked world of March's poem. Carl Haan's four-person band does a fine job on the cheesy tunes, and director Kevin Bellie has gathered many first-rate non-Equity actors for the show. The leads--Joel Sutliffe and Megan Van De Hey--are especially great as the noisy, loveless couple at the center of March's poem.

This production starts out strong, with a huge ensemble number that features lots of energy, sex, and repressed violence. But an hour into the show things begin to sag, thanks in part to the forgettable tunes but mostly to LaChiusa and Wolfe's agenda-laden adaptation: they find time to tackle showbiz race relations in the 20s but fail to produce a satisfying ending for their tale.

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