The Wild Party – Episode #126 – January 28, 2021
JESS: Hello I'm Jessie McAnally
ANDREW: And I am Andrew DeWolf.
BRIANNA: And I'm Brianna Jones.
JESS: And welcome to the Musicals with Cheese, a podcast where I try to get Andrew and Bree to like musical theater. How are we doing today, guys?
ANDREW: Well... I'm doing pretty good actually. How are you doing, Jess?
JESS: You know what? I think it's been a long time since we had a party.
ANDREW: A wild party with all of our friends?
JESS: Yes, all our friends. We’ll bring Jackie and Johnny and Betty and June and Bree!
ANDREW: And Brent and Adam and –
BRIANNA: And Brendon.
JESS: And Brendon. No, Brendon’s is not allowed. Brendon is not allowed.
ANDREW: Brendon’s not allowed. Who else is invited?
JESS: Queenie. Queenie’s invited. And actually, you know who the two guests of honor to this very wild party are?
ANDREW: Who is that?
JESS: Our first guest is Andrew Lippa. And our second one is Michael John LaChiusa. Did I get that in the right order?
JESS: Michael John LaChiusa. But we're finally doing it, guys. This is gonna be a big episode. Just prepare - this is going to be an intense, big episode where we're talking about two different musicals. And both musicals deal with intense themes, including sexual assault, racism, rape, and a bunch of other types of things. And maybe, if that is triggering for you, might want to sit this one out.
ANDREW: But yeah, we're gonna go for it, now that we have the content out of the way. We are going to talk about those things.
JESS: So today, we are actually going to dive into both of The Wild Party musicals, both Andrew Lippa’s and Michael John LaChiusa’s The Wild Party. And at the end, we're going to do a comparison of what we liked in each what we think is the more better one, and just generally what we think of them all. But first we're going to do a deep dive into each musical specifically and we're going to go in the order they came out on stage. So we will be starting with Andrew Lippa’s and then following it up with the LaChiusa’s. And Andrew is the ultimate bipartisan person - he has nothing, no cards on either side of the table. He does not care. So, I'm going to be very, very interested in his opinion, and I think you will be too. But first, we're gonna start with Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party. Cue the music, Bree.
(Queenie was a Blonde plays)
JESS: Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party is a musical with music, lyrics, and book by Andrew Lippa, based on The Wild Party by Joseph Moncure March. It premiered on February 24, 2000 at the Manhattan Theatre Club, and it closed April 9, 2000, after 54 performances. The Wild Party won the 2000 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music, and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical, Lucille Lortel Awards for Scenic, Costume, and Lighting Design, and the 1999-2000 Obie Award for Best Choreography. So, the plot of The Wild Party is about: lovers Queenie and Burrs, they decide to throw a party to end all parties in their Manhattan apartment. After the colorful arrival of a slew of guests living life on the edge, Queenie’s wandering eyes land on a striking man named Black. As the decadence is reaching a climax, so is Burr’s jealousy, which erupts and sends him into a violent rage. Gun in hand and inhibitions abandoned, Burrs turns on Queenie and Black. The gun gets fired, but who's been shot? Yeah, so that's Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party.
JESS: Andrew. It's weird because you watched these out of chronological order - but what did you think of Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party?
ANDREW: Well, since I watched them both, and I watched this one second, my opinion probably differs a little bit to what yours might be.
JESS: Yes. Whereas I saw Lippa’s first. So, that was my experience.
ANDREW: Yeah. Coming from the other one, this one just feels like the same story but with a lot of characters trimmed down, and a more narrative-driven piece, focusing much more on the Queenie character, and really very little on anyone else. Specifically, Queenie, Burrs, and Black as characters are the only ones that really feel like they're fleshed out in any real way.
JESS: This really focuses on the love triangle, so to say, and making sure that that feels emotionally palatable in a way. And this is also done entirely in rhyme as a poem, really embracing the original poetry.
JESS: And I also want to say, up here at the front, that it's not a case of Ants and A Bug's Life where Jeffrey Katzenberg was actively trying to rip off A Bug's Life and get it out beforehand. What happened was, The Wild Party was just going into the public domain and they had just re-released the book with these wonderful, beautiful drawings by Art Spiegelman, who also did Maus, which is an incredible comic book if you haven't looked at it. And so, Andrew Lippa and Michael John LaChiusa just both saw it on the New York Times bestseller list and was like, “Well, now I gotta look at this. Oh, it's in the public domain? This reads like it'd be a great musical. Let's do it.” And they both just started around the same time, and they both finished around the same time, and then they're both on the New York stages within months of each other. Like, one play was getting the roses meant for the other play, one person was going to one play being like, “When’s Idina Menzel coming on?”, the other one was like, “When’s Eartha Kitt coming on?” And they're at the wrong place.
ANDREW: So, it's legitimately, they were, like, at the same time? That's crazy.
JESS: There's a little overlap between them of where they both were playing at once. And there was the debate of whether or not Lippa’s would transfer to Broadway, but then the LaChiusa’s has transferred to Broadway so it's like, “Well, what the fuck are we supposed to do now?”
ANDREW: Maybe they meant to put Lippa’s on? Lippa’s does feel more like a Broadway show in the modern sense.
ANDREW: This show is similar in style to your modern Dear Evan Hansens and all those that are on Broadway right now.
JESS: Yes. And Lippa at the time wasn't really a big guy quite yet. I will refer to the time I interviewed Andrew Lippa and I will give Bree clips of this, where he told me about the development of this.
ANDREW LIPPA: And I got to New York and I joined the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop. I was fortunate enough to get accepted into that group and continued to be only a composer and work with different people. And I wrote John & Jen with my friend Tom Greenwald and, again, I wasn't the lyricist on that project. And then I discovered a long form poem in the bookstore at the end of 1995 called The Wild Party. And I didn't have any writing partners who wanted to work on it with me, and I decided I was going to write The Wild Party as a musical and make it like Cats. I would set poetry to music and make it theatrical. And early in writing The Wild Party, I realized that there wasn't enough in the poem that was in the first person that said “I feel this, I want this,” and I started writing my own lyrics and showed a couple songs to my friend Jeff Seller. Again, all roads lead to Jeffrey Seller when it comes to making musicals for me. And I showed it to my friend Jeffrey Seller, who’s also from Michigan. And Jeff said, “Who wrote the lyrics?” and I said, “I did”. And all he said on the phone was, “Keep going. You should keep going.” Cut to about a year and a half later, and Jeffrey Seller and then business partner Kevin McCollum took up the professional option and they actually were the commercial producers attached to The Wild Party when it got produced to the Manhattan Theatre Club. So Jeffrey and Kevin were very instrumental in producing The Wild Party with the Manhattan Theatre Club.
JESS: Basically he said this was supposed to be his version of Cats when he was developing it. He wanted to take the poetry and literally adapt it line for line, the same way that Andrew Lloyd Webber developed Cats. But eventually he realized, “Well, I got to add lyrics to it,” and therefore he finally became a lyricist. And the thing is, I know we're not supposed to be comparing quite yet - I feel like this really falls short in the book. Whenever they aren't singing, this show really kind of falls apart; whenever they are just kind of talking or spitting out plot, I lose a lot of interest. But as soon as those song numbers go on, they have an energy to them, they feel effective – It feels like an entirely different show starts. And while they are very anachronistic to the time, they're very much rock-based, they have electric guitars sticking in. As individual songs themselves, I think there's not a really failing one among them.
ANDREW: I don't think that a musical really has to be a period piece in the way that LaChiusa’s is.
ANDREW: Probably saying that name horribly. We're gonna pronounce that wrong every time so just a quick heads up - every time we say that, it's going to be wrong. Whereas that one actually did a vaudeville style, this is just a modern rock style. Which is fine. I don't think that shows are something that needs to be pigeonholed into. Well, this takes place in the 20s and you used music that wasn't in the 20s, so –
JESS: Well, look at Hamilton. That’s like the king of why that can work.
ANDREW: Yeah, you don't have to do that. And I don't think that this show is worse than the other because of that, although some people may. I'm not sure.
JESS: There's an old saying, and we talked about this on my other podcast, Dear Friends - I think it hasn't even aired yet. We brought up the fact that a book is so important to a musical, and it's secretly important. Like, if a book works, you won't know it. If it doesn't work, you will 100% know it.
ANDREW: Yeah, what do you think fails in the book about this one?
JESS: I think it's streamlined and written in a really wacky way that is both audacious for a theater play in New York, but also doesn't suit the very kind of Broadway nature of the music and the visuals. Because I think aesthetically, this feels a lot tamer and a lot less groundbreaking in a way that is effectively reflecting the music. Whereas the actual dialogue feels so strange and otherworldly in a way that suits the LaChiusa one more in all honesty.
ANDREW: I think we have to talk about the tone of this show.
ANDREW: Because the real difference between these two shows - other than music style and things like that - the tone is the biggest one, I think. So this show is very... lighthearted? I'm not sure how you would put it.
JESS: It feels like a party in the sense of like, “it's fun,” as opposed to party in the sense that people are dangerous.
ANDREW: It feels like it's a show that wants to be fun, until - not at the beginning, because at the beginning they have - we've already given the warning - there's sexual assault at the beginning of the show.
JESS: Opening scene. I read the book very, very quickly this morning. It is a quick read. It's there, and the relationship between Queenie and Burrs is, more or less, he's a very violent man. There's an entire segment about him beating her with a shoe, his shoe and all that. And in this musical, it's like, “They were both vaudeville performers and they got along because they were both really, really good at sex. That was their driving force, but she was not quite as intense as he was, and it scares her.” That is what Lippa’s thing is. So it's not quite a sexual assault in the same way as LaChiusa is very, very much a real sexual assault -
ANDREW: The thing is with LaChiusa though is it's actually different characters where that happens.
ANDREW: And the placement of it is drastically different and we'll get into that. But in this one, there is –
JESS: Wait. Let's just break down the plot of this one real quick.
JESS: So we open with Queenie and Burrs and they have weird sexual energy and he basically sexually assaults her in the opening scene. She decides she wants to throw a party to try to embarrass him, more or less.
ANDREW: She seems like she’s kind of done with him in a way?
JESS: She’s one foot out the door already.
ANDREW: Yeah. Whereas he doesn’t seem to care about her or at least he plays off that he doesn’t?
JESS: I think he just is a sociopath where he obsesses over her more than actually has a romantic feeling for her.
ANDREW: Yeah, because by the ending of it, he is desperate to have her back. But at the beginning, it doesn’t seem like he really cares about her for anything besides sex.
JESS: I think he sees her as property and doesn’t like other people touching his things.
ANDREW: Yeah. Which is something that sadly a lot of relationships devolve into I think.
JESS: Thanks man, you’re terrible.
ANDREW: But - they have a big party. And I think this is where I feel the show falls short of the other - They kind of introduce a lot of the guests, but not really. They don't give them as much time as the other show does and I think the other show is very interesting because of that. But this show, there's a lot of guests and they have a bit of an introduction number, but it's always mostly about Queenie and her meeting this other guy, Black, who shows up. I think he's with her friend, Kate? Am I wrong about that?
JESS: Kate, yes. And I will say that this one expands on Kate and makes her a much bigger part of the narrative, cus it’s not exactly a love triangle as much as a love square.
ANDREW: It is. Although the Kate and Burrs thing is not developed as much as Black and Queenie.
JESS: No, it is not. Where I think it's just that Kate wants to get revenge on Queenie for being obsessed with her fellow that she brought, and then Burrs is just not into it.
ANDREW: Yeah, but basically Kate and Burrs kind of get together and I think really Burrs just goes along with it because he wants to have sex with someone. And he doesn't really - that's about it. And then Queenie and Black kind of get along, I guess? How would you put it?
JESS: They find kinship in one another. I feel like that relationship is really expanded in a good way. That feels real. I feel like Black is very underdeveloped, especially compared to Kate. Kate as a character is big, you get where she is, and she's really cool, and you kind of love seeing her on screen. Whereas Black, who is basically our knight in shining armor, so to say, the most normal one of them all –
JESS: And normal is hard to play interesting is the saddest part of all. And he's like the one character of color in here.
ANDREW: Yeah, but at the end of the party, it's really about Burrs wanting to get back at Queenie for leaving him basically. And he storms in with a gun and wants to kill her.
JESS: He wants to kill someone. He is so jacked out of his mind that he doesn't care who he kills, he just wants to shoot someone. It could be him, could be the, it could be himself even -
ANDREW: Yeah and you have a sequence where he’s devolving into drugs and all that and talking about how he wants something he doesn't really even know. He just goes in and he has a gun and someone ends up getting shot. Spoiler, I guess.
JESS: He ends up killing himself – I mean, yeah.
ANDREW: He’s dead.
JESS: And then Queenie has to send Black away cus she's worried he'll be murdered if they think he killed someone.
ANDREW: Yeah. The ending of this one, I don't like as much. The police show up and she's gonna turn herself in for murder, I guess.
ANDREW: Even though, definitely was self-defense but –
JESS: Right. I mean, I think it's a little iffy - a blurred line, so to say - as to whether she's gonna say it was self-defense or whatever cus everyone remembers what happened that night. And Burrs was kind of violent towards everybody all night.
ANDREW: Yeah, but it ends very ambiguously with her just walking away with the gun and the curtain drops.
JESS: I think it's more to say that she's lost both the men in her life and she's got to figure out her own way now. And I think it's slightly uplifting, so to say. More uplifting than the other one.
ANDREW: Well, the other one has a darker tone throughout. So -
JESS: Right. What do you think of like the vaudeville elements? Because I feel like this embraces the vaudeville side of it more and less the minstrel side. Because they're dressed - he is literally a clown. He dresses up as -
ANDREW: I personally feel like this one embraces the vaudeville less because I think vaudeville and minstrel cannot be separated.
ANDREW: Like the vaudeville and minstrel - And I feel like this show kind of backs away from a lot of the more serious elements that the other one touches on.
JESS: I agree, but it also feels like it's more streamlined and a complete story more than the other one.
ANDREW: Yeah, it's a story with less to say and it feels more like they were trying to make something that audiences would like with this one.
JESS: Right. And I guess we're kind of stuck in that rock and a hard place. I feel like this has no teeth but it goes down easier if that makes sense.
JESS: It’s jello. You don't need teeth to swallow it down. But it's not really filling.
ANDREW: Yeah. And I think as a full work - I mean, this is an easier show to recommend to people.
ANDREW: You know?
JESS: And as an album, it’s great album to listen to.
ANDREW: It's almost like saying like a Katy Perry album is easier to recommend to someone than an avant garde album though. It doesn't say anything about the artistic merit of it, it's just easier to recommend because it's not as edgy and not as difficult to talk about, you know?
JESS: And this is much more humorous, intentionally so. There's an entire song about a woman being a lesbian and it's all about puns about vaginas.
ANDREW: Yeah, it doesn't have the edge that the other has.
JESS: I mean, it has an edge, but it's like ABC edge where the other one has show edge.
ANDREW: Yeah. Well, why don't we talk about some of the music in this because I think that that's –
JESS: How about before we dive into that, we think about our favorite segment of the entire show and compare our initial thoughts to the initial thoughts of Mr. Ben Brantley when he first saw this.
ANDREW: Oh god. Has Ben Brantley reviewed everything in existence?
BRIANNA: I think so. He had a lot of free time.
JESS: It was his job.
ANDREW: He has an article about every rock on the planet. He's just like, “Yeah, this one was too round.”
JESS: So, it's time for Breeviews, the time when Bree reads the New York Times reviews and compares it to what we think about it. And once again, Ben Brantley saw this first, and the reason why they didn't move it to Broadway is because, according to Julia Murney, they didn't have the Times review. So, this is the Times review that ruined their chances of going to Broadway. So let's dive in.
(Breeviews theme song)
BRIANNA: All right. Okay, so New York Times head theater critic, Ben Brantley, said “Mr. Lippa's score, dexterously orchestrated by Michael Gibson, has a jittery, wandering quality, conscientiously shifting styles and tempos as if in search of a lost chord. Lippa's book and lyrics have expanded the focus of March's notoriously cool-blooded poem to depict a quest not just for novel sensation but for that funny thing called love. are of the high-decibel, swooning pop variety made popular by Frank Wildhorn.”
JESS: I disagree with that.
BRIANNA: “Mr. Lippa fares better with pastiches of jazz, vaudeville and gospel vintage, although these, too, suffer by comparison to the Kander-Ebb songs for ‘Chicago.’ The accompanying lyrics can be squirm-making, as when Queenie laments near the show's end: 'Laughing at our neighbor/ Smiling through a hiss/How did we come to this?'”
JESS: He did not like it.
ANDREW: Yeah. Not as scathing as a lot of his stuff, but he definitely –
JESS: He tends to not be as scathing for things that are off-Broadway, in all honesty. Like, if they're off-Broadway, he tends to have a little bit more gentle hands. But on Broadway he tends to pull the knives out. I want to talk about some of the songs now. I want to take a moment to dive into those.
JESS: I think all of Burrs’ songs are fucking great for one.
ANDREW: I think Burrs is probably the most interesting character in just how horrible he is.
JESS: Yes he is a supervillain levels.
ANDREW: Is that is that accurate to the poem with the original –
JESS: Oh, page three he's beating her with a shoe. Yes.
ANDREW: Okay, so, it absolutely is accurate. Okay.
JESS: Yes. And I also think that Brian d'Arcy James - who plays him in the original cast of this - looks a lot like Burrs from the Art Spiegelman drawings.
ANDREW: If anything, they're making him more sympathetic here than it sounds in the poem.
JESS: I mean, yes. Because he kind of was just this angry villainous figure that liked sex and beating and he was very, very terrible.
JESS: One of the songs that I heard, well before I saw this show but always just heard, was What Is It About Her? which is the Act One closer and one of the best songs in the entire show.
(What Is It About Her? Plays)
JESS: He is basically lamenting about how this woman drives him nuts and, “I've had so many other women, but this one, I specifically crave in a way.”
ANDREW: It's his obsession with her.
JESS: It's not even love. It's not love. And I don't like the way that people – like, even fucking Ben Brantley describes it as a “lust or love.” It's not that. It's obsession.
ANDREW: Well, I think Ben Brantley was talking about Queenie looking for love. I don't really know. I mean, that maybe isn't his full review, but Burrs - definitely, it's not about love. I mean, if you love someone, you don't point a gun at them. That's all I can say.
JESS: Well, he's also jacked up on drugs and adrenaline and insanity. He is not a sane man and then you give him drugs.
ANDREW: Yeah, no, he's absolutely obsessed. I think this is a really good song about it. And I think it's better - there's a song in the other show that's very similar to it. It's not the Act One closer, but it's like - I forget what it's called. But it's about –
JESS: How Many Women in the World?
ANDREW: Yeah, yeah. That's what it was. But I think this one does it better as an idea. I'm not sure.
JESS: Yeah, but that's a real dark - that's a villain song almost. But that isn't where he loses his mind. It sounds like a song that would be after he finds Black and Queenie together. But he has a different song called Let Me Drown, which is, after that, he decides, “I'm done.” And it's like this bouncy like, (bouncy singing) “Let me drown, let me -”
ANDREW: He's in a bathtub too? Am I thinking of the right song?
ANDREW: It's so, so weird. He's surrounded by other women and he's in a bathtub.
JESS: The thing is - the song itself is so much fun to listen to. It's a great song.
JESS: But in the context of this show, it is emotional whiplash to say the least. Especially in the context of what's going on. Where I think that is emblematic of the entire issue with Lippa’s The Wild Party. The songs do not reflect the tone of the story, and I wish I could say there's a disconnect between the book writer and the songwriter, but they’re the same guy.
ANDREW: Yeah. Well, I think it comes down to what he was going for and - I don't know. If he's trying to make this his Cats, the material doesn't fit that.
JESS: I mean, in theory, it kind of does. The book or the long poem does, where it's just like, “We introduce a person, we get a little moment with them, we get a little moment with someone else, we get a little moment with someone else,” and then it ends and Queenie and Burrs are just the framing device of the people that have the party.
ANDREW: Yeah, but even the other people at the party - because we see much more of that in the other show – when we’ll get into that - They aren't fun cats that, you know, “Let's dance around and have fun.” Like, they all have their own little things. Yeah, they all have their own little thing that's going on with them. But this show cuts all of them for the most part. I mean, they're there. But they're not really a big part of the show. And they focus heavily on the Queenie and Burr thing which is just a bad relationship and is just dour. And the way it ends is so dismal. And then all of the songs in the show don't really reflect that.
JESS: I do want to talk briefly about some of Kate's songs. Specifically Life of the Party, which is the Act Two opener.
(The Life of the Party plays)
JESS: Which is, on its own –
ANDREW: This is a good one.
JESS: – A really fun song and it shows who she is and extends on the character we've seen up to that point.
JESS: I think that in and of itself shows you the potential that this idea and the show that this could have been. Where this and Wild Wild Party - both of those feel very much like, “Oh, this could have been a more consistently tone piece,” because they both have the twinges of darkness. They don't go all the way left, all the way right. Whereas as the big issue with Make Me Happy, What is it About Her? and all the other ones - those are either very dark or very bright. Whereas these skate the middle. And I feel like Lippa - I think if we do a little revision to the score, we can really make that line ride a bit more.
JESS: Another thing that I wanted to bring up that I find interesting is this has a more Broadway structure than the other one. And when I say structure, I mean, this is a two-hour two-act musical with a very blatant “I want” song. The start of Act Two is a song that doesn't really tie back to the story but is effective character work. It has a climax.
ANDREW: I think the reason it does is because this is meant to be more of a -
JESS: Classic stage show.
ANDREW: - Easier piece. Yeah, it's a stage show, specifically he picks a main character, he picks a focus, and I think that that works for making the show more watchable.
JESS: But I think that - I, for one, and I don't know if you felt this way too, Andrew - I felt this show seemed shorter than the other one.
ANDREW: I felt that they were about the same length.
JESS: This is significantly longer, because it's a two-hour two-act show. Where the other one is 90 minutes. It's a one-act, 90-minute show.
ANDREW: So I guess this one did feel shorter, I suppose, if they felt about the same length.
JESS: Yeah, then that's kind of the weird thing about this. I think it's because it has that traditional structure where you kind of can expect where everything's gonna be and it guides you in. It feels like a more satisfying experience, but it is trying less weird things, which makes me - I appreciate it less, but enjoy it more, I think is the best way to describe this. My brain has those chemical reactions to narrative story structure to this that I like having.
ANDREW: I think narrative story structure has a very good place in stage shows. And I think cutting down on the characters makes sense in this. Although having watched the other one first, I did miss some of the other characters because I found them more interesting. I think part of the problem is the source material doesn't give you a huge amount to work with with Queenie. She's just not that interesting of a character. She doesn't have a huge amount going on and really she doesn't do much during the plot, other than just meet a different guy and then have her old boyfriend come and try to kill her. And that's about it. You know? Like, there's not a lot that happens, you know.
JESS: The plot is kind of thrust upon her. She makes one big decision to not stay with Burrs, and then she pays consequence quote unquote for that. And then she finally discovers she doesn't need to rely on men. That is her arc.
ANDREW: And I almost feel like because of that, Burr feels like the main character for a lot of the show.
JESS: I get that too.
ANDREW: We keep coming back to him and he is the one that is driving decisions. He is the one that decides, “I'm going to do this and I'm going to not care about Queenie anymore, I'm gonna come back and I'm gonna kill somebody in here.” He's the one making the decisions.
JESS: Alright, we keep teasing about it, and the last song I really want to talk about is Make Me Happy which is the climax between Black, Burrs, and Queenie.
(Make Me Happy plays)
JESS: I think this is the opus of this entire piece. I think this is the best scene, best song, this is the reason why this show exists. And I think it is really effective, dramatic, and feels like a good way to wrap this all up. It feels like an 11 o'clock number, where the stakes are real, the characters are coming to a head, and everything is breaking down. I think it gives good fodder for great performances. I can watch just amateur productions of this and this song is always a fucking blast to watch. For a long time, before I even saw this show, this was my alarm in the morning. This would just play at 6am every morning and that would get me up. Cus it is such an intense number.
ANDREW: I think this show earns it more than the other as well.
JESS: Yes. I feel like this shows you the real degradation of Burrs’ mental state and this is the culmination. And it makes sense that this is the action he decides to take.
ANDREW: Yeah. The other show – honestly, Burrs gets kind of lost. And I guess we'll get to that very soon. But in this one, it very much builds to this moment and it's a good climax. And again, the narrative structure of this show is just better. It's just strong comparatively.
JESS: Yes. And it gives Queenie a chance to fight for her own ending because she is the one that basically tricks Burrs and distracts him into - and let Black get the chance to steal the gun away from him.
ANDREW: Yeah, and then she is also the one who gets to make the final decision of sending Black away as well. It just, it does give her more to do. I wish she was a more interesting character, I suppose. I think that they, for most of the show, didn't do that much with her, but -
JESS: That's fair. Alright. Are you ready for a mid-show before we talk about the LaChiusa’s?
ANDREW: Yeah. And you say you don't have much to say about it but I feel like I actually kind of do, so.
JESS: See, I had a lot to say about Lippa’s, so I think we'll even out in the end. But let's go into a mid-show announcement.
JESS: So, The Wild Party is a musical with music and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa and a book by George C. Wolfe and Michael John LaChiusa, based on The Wild Party by Joseph Moncure March. It was nominated for seven Tonys and won none of them - would you believe that? It's strange to think that Lippa’s Wild Party won more awards than this one did despite this one being the one that inevitably made it to Broadway. It has the exact same story. And we don't need to read though all that. All the same trigger warnings from Lippa’s still stand for this one.
ANDREW: I would even add one extra one. There's definitely racial content in this as well.
JESS: Oh, yeah. There's racial content. There's much more blatant drug use in this one.
ANDREW: Yeah. All right.
JESS: All right. Andrew, what do you got to say about this one?
ANDREW: This one feels more like Cats than the other one.
JESS: Please put that on the poster, John Michael LaChiusa. “Feels more like Cats than Lippa’s.”
ANDREW: It's funny because you interviewed Lippa, and he said that he wanted it to be his Cats. But really, this one is the one that feels more like Cats.
JESS: It really does though. This one feels like a bunch of characters. Some barely have screentime. Some of them are very important.
ANDREW: I think the tone of this one is better.
JESS: It's definitely darker.
ANDREW: I think it's darker. It feels seedy. And I think it fits the story better because the story is dark. I mean, let's be real.
JESS: There's not like some random rock number that gets your heart pumping, and then suddenly a violent rape scene in the way that the other one did.
ANDREW: Yeah. So, in this one - and we didn't really mention it because it wasn't really worth mentioning, I don't think - Burrs is a clown. He is a vaudeville clown in the Lippa version.
ANDREW: In this one, he is straight up, explicitly, blackface performer?
JESS: Yeah, that is what he does.
ANDREW: Yes, he is a blackface performer and he does it onstage in this show. Which is something I didn't expect them to actually do.
JESS: Well, the thing is, unlike Lippa’s version, this one is actually written - like the book - and directed by a Black man, George C. Wolfe, who most recently directed Black Bottom movie that stars -
ANDREW: It probably helped them feel more bold to like, “We'll do it,” you know? Having that sort of support for it - if a Black person is helping make your show, you probably feel more -
JESS: Well, he’s the controlling artistic flow of this, so he decides how it's told and what elements he wants to use. And as a bit of information that I learned from Adam Wachter earlier today - Originally, it was not supposed to be Toni Collette as Queenie in this. It was supposed to be Vanessa Williams in whiteface. And at the end, she was supposed to wipe it off. So I think that was supposed to be like a juxtaposition between him wearing blackface as a minstrel and her basically playing a fake white character, and then eventually taking that off. That would have been a very interesting way. But since we now have Toni Collette because Vanessa Williams pulled out, that element is kind of off and the blackface seems much more pointed and vulgar and makes it makes you sick to your stomach.
ANDREW: Which it should I mean - It's blackface. If you don't feel sick seeing it, you should - I mean, you should reconsider your life.
JESS: Yeah, if it's a joke to you, you've got issues.
ANDREW: Yeah. Or you're just a timewarp from the 1920s.
JESS: As I said, are racist.
ANDREW: Yes. So there's that. And there's also the placement of the sexual assault scene, which in Lippa’s version, it's at the beginning of the show, right off the bat. In this one, it's a different set of characters and it's near the end of the show and it is very - I don't want to say jarring because it's not like it doesn't fit tonally, but it's very uncomfortable.
JESS: It's jarring for me at first because it starts as what seems to be a comedy scene about how much this girl loves doing cocaine.
JESS: And then it just turns into a violent rape where he's taking advantage of this very, very –
ANDREW: Yeah, and by violent, I mean it is explicit and quite, quite graphic, I'd say.
JESS: Yes. And as we say that this musical has teeth where the other one doesn’t, this one literally opens with Toni Colette's tits out and graphic nudity. And the other one felt kind of like a PG 13 or a very lightly R rated.
ANDREW: It's not that the other one is completely tame and Disneyfied, but if you compare these two - That's what it feels like.
JESS: But just as I said, darker does not imply better.
ANDREW: No. And I think the elements where this is better is not necessarily the darker elements. I think the better part is the introduction of more characters that are pretty interesting.
JESS: Yes, but it also muddles the overall storytelling.
JESS: Quite a bit.
ANDREW: Yes. So we also have - and we've only talked about Queenie, Burrs and Black -
JESS: And Kate.
ANDREW: Because of the Lippa version there. Yeah. And Kate. In the Lippa version, they're the only characters that really matter. Whereas in this one, you get the same characters, but we also have the brothers. D'Armano or something?
JESS: You have Dolores –
ANDREW: Dolores, you have Gold and Goldberg, who are producers on Broadway? Is it Broadway?
JESS: Yeah. Lights Of Broadway, yeah.
ANDREW: You have Jackie who is like a - What does he call himself? Ambisextrous? Very weird.
JESS: Yeah, it's like a very vile, gross – sex – man – It's gross.
ANDREW: Yeah, he's the guy who does the rape.
ANDREW: Oscar, who is the boxer, who - he appears a little bit in the Lippa one.
JESS: Nowhere near as much though.
ANDREW: Nowhere near as much. And he is also - in the Lippa one – is he a white character in that? I feel like he is.
ANDREW: In this one, he is a Black character in an interracial couple. That's a point that they draw to attention.
JESS: But also, this is interesting - that African-American does not play Black in this one, which was an interesting choice too. Which makes the fact that Lippa did choose to play put that as one Black actor in the role of Black even more eyebrow-raising.
ANDREW: In fact, I think what's interesting is Black - Also, he doesn't show up to the party as a love interest, he shows up as almost like a like a gigolo or something?
JESS: He’s just kind of a guy. And he's a lot less of a knight in shining armor in this one. He's a lot more duplicitous. Like, I mean everyone at the party is a piece of shit. Even our quote unquote heroes are very bad people. Everyone is bad.
ANDREW: Yes, there are people who are worse than others, but there's nobody in this that I would say, like “This is the good guy.” Yeah, I think there's more characters honestly, but there's a lot and a huge portion of the show is just introduction songs.
JESS: Right. And that's great. I think my favorite character who is in this that isn't in the other one is Dolores, played by Yzma herself, Eartha Kitt. She is so incredible and she adds so much - It adds a weird layer of clout to this overall production and there's some big names - you got Oscar nominee Toni Collette, you've got Mandy Patinkin who is huge. This is a stacked cast.
ANDREW: Yeah. I think some of the best - maybe not some of the best - Some of my favorite numbers are from the introduction scenes with - I think the Gold and Goldberg song is pretty humorous. Where there - it's talking about anti-semitism, I believe. It's them saying that Goldberg would be more successful if he changed his name to Golden to remove the Jewish element of it.
ANDREW: But Goldberg doesn't want to do that. So there's like a comedy number of them debating whether to change it to Gold and Golden or Gold and Goldberg. And then you have the brothers who sing Uptown, which is just kind of a fun song, but Burrs also thinks that Gold and Goldberg are going to bring him uptown, which is a big point. And the brothers are weird characters. And I wish I saw more of them because they're like gay lovers but also brothers -
JESS: Yeah, It's a little incestuous.
ANDREW: It's like incestuous and dark and strange.
JESS: I do want to talk a little bit about one thing. I don't really want to go into songs yet, per se, but these two shows have opening numbers with the same title and the same opening lines of the song. The song is Queenie was a Blonde.
ANDREW: It’s from the poem, I assume.
JESS: The book, yes. I know we're not really comparing them quite yet, but I think I like this one better. This one feels much seedier and much grosser.
ANDREW: Okay, talking about music style, at the very least, I prefer this show.
JESS: I figured you would, is the thing. Even before we dived into it, the other one’s not your type.
ANDREW: This one drops the pop sound and - you know, I try not to go hard on pop shows but I do prefer shows that do something more interesting than just a pop sound for the most part. And this is a full-on vaudeville style show.
JESS: Which means the songs are nowhere near as memorable is the thing. Like, I can't tell one song apart from the other and that might just be a problem with LaChiusa writing more scene-based songs as opposed to song-songs.
ANDREW: Well, we just talked about a different one of his shows where, honestly, I can't really tell the songs apart other than the lyrics. I think that's just part of his style is he writes a lot of songs that are more focused on lyrical content over making them sound different.
JESS: I think - these songs kind of make me feel off kilter in a way, where it feels so dissonant and so uncomfortable. Even the dance numbers are so gross-sounding.
ANDREW: I like it, though. And I think that when you - Especially when you get towards the end, the How Many Women in the World? number is really good.
JESS: Before we get into the songs now, we gotta compare our initial thoughts to the thoughts of the New York theater critic of the time, Ben Brantley, and what he had to say about this show, after he had already dealt with Lippa’s version. So, let's dive into it. It's time for Breeviews, part two.
(Breeviews theme song)
BRIANNA: New York Times head theatre critic Ben Brantley said, “This is, as you may know, the second musical of the season of this title, and it is inspired by the same original source material, Joseph Moncure March's notorious narrative poem of the Prohibition era. The first incarnation, a Manhattan Theater Club production written and composed by Andrew Lippa, set up its decadent sybarites as a bunch of writhing, mostly interchangeable neurasthenics. If 'Wild Party I' seemed to be a party with no personalities, 'Wild Party II' feels like a parade of personalities in search of a missing party. Actually, the shows are equally effective at guaranteeing that a good time is had by no one.”
ANDREW: So, he doesn't like either show apparently.
JESS: He does not like either show and I bet Lippa’s team was really kicking themselves by relying on the Times to review to decide whether they transfer it to Broadway.
ANDREW: I do think the ending sentiment there, “If ‘Wild Party I’ is a party with no personality, ‘Wild Party II’ is a parade of personalities with no party” - That's pretty good. That’s a pretty accurate statement.
JESS: That sums it up. But I feel like a good time could be had at either of these shows to be honest. Like I can see a reason why anyone would enjoy -
ANDREW: Yeah, I don't think either show is that bad. I think both shows have a place, but it almost does feel like you have two shows that are equally mediocre and it's for opposite reasons. One is too focused on having a really strong narrative and basically cutting everything fun about the source material, and the other is like, “Wow, look at all these crazy characters we have. And also, there's not really a narrative structure to this at all.”
JESS: “Things just happen.”
ANDREW: Yeah. So it's just kind of like, “Which one do you prefer? Do you want a really strong narrative structure and very limited characters and personalities? Or do you want a ton of characters and not much for plot?”
JESS: The thing is, this suits both of our sensibilities. You know me, I'm a structure bitch. I love structure so much and that's how I work on most of my gauges of quality - is just how well they fit into a very clear and concise structure. Where you are very much like an emotion and like overall music and feel and vibe kind of person.
ANDREW: Yeah, I think so.
JESS: And I feel like I'm going to prefer Lippa and you're going to prefer LaChiusa.
ANDREW: I think that kind of is. I think the only place I disagree is - So they have all these characters and they introduce a couple different plotlines – Like, you want to you want to know what's going to happen with Gold and Goldberg - Are they going to change the name? Are they not? And you want to know what happens to the boxer and all that. And it all builds up to the point where this one character, Jackie, and - what is the girl's name? Madelaine?
ANDREW: - Are sitting in a room together doing drugs and Jackie just fucking rapes her. And it's horrible and that's the end. Every one of the guests leaves except for Queenie and Burr and Black. So it's like, you build all these characters up and then you get to that point, and then they all just leave. And it's like they just did know what to do with it. They're like, “Well, we have all these characters, we just got to get rid of them.”
JESS: Well, they're like, “Well, we kind of need to wrap this story up, we need to get this over with, we're a 90-minute show, we don't have the leisure of sticking around for two hours the way the other one did.” And I feel like this show would be intolerable if it were any longer to be honest.
JESS: I feel like the show would be very difficult to stomach if it were very much longer.
ANDREW: I almost feel like it's a little tasteless though. Like, how they do it.
JESS: Oh, it is. I also feel like the source material’s tasteless as well.
ANDREW: Yeah. Madelaine doesn't really have much of a character arc. Madelaine is just a young girl and she gets raped by a horrible guy. And then they both leave the party and we never hear from them again.
JESS: Shit, I think I know what Madelaine's supposed to do and I'm just discovering this. She's supposed to be the reflection of Queenie, so she's literally just a linchpin for Queenie’s arc. Which is, at first she sees her, she takes her under her wing, like, “You're gonna learn everything from me, you’re going to be great.” And then she sees her get into drugs, get raped, and physically assaulted, and then Queenie has to deal with her own demons with Burrs and deciding what she wants in her life and that –
JESS: That could have been a really good storytelling linchpin to trigger Queenie to take action in the final scenes.
ANDREW: I don't they show it that way. And I think -
JESS: I think that's what they intended to do that way and it's not effective.
ANDREW: It's too crass as well. Like, it's too much. It's hard to watch and then when you just see Madelaine run away and then you never see her again. It's like, “Ooh,” you know, it leaves a really bad taste in your mouth. It's not good.
JESS: Okay, there's only one song I want to talk about really.
JESS: Let's say one and a half. I want to talk about Dolores’ song When It Ends, which is basically the 11 o'clock number where Eartha Kitt just gets to own the stage for a bit. It is wonderful. I love this number. It is just a great time for a wonderful actress.
(When It Ends plays)
JESS: I don't know what it means, I don't know why it’s here, why is she the one singing it, there's all those questions.
ANDREW: Well, she’s an older actress who was big and now she's not anymore.
JESS: Yes, but she still knows like, “I'm still very sexy and I could fuck anyone in this room if I wanted to.”
ANDREW: Yeah. And I feel like she kind of is like a narrator character almost. You know? I don't know. She’s got a weird place in the story and it's hard to explain.
JESS: I agree. But I love this song. I think this is the best actual song. The problem with this is there's not a lot of actual verse-chorus-verse songs and that's often very good, I love Great Comet and all that, but this one stands out because it very much is a traditional actual storytelling song.
ANDREW: Yeah. And I think near the end here, one of the most intense moments is when Burrs is just putting on his makeup as well. And this is right around when that happens.
JESS: Let's just talk about Burr’s song, How Many Women In The World because it's a fuckity ass sounding song, for one.
(How Many Women In The World plays)
JESS: They had their Mandy Patinkin, they knew what he does, and they made him do it to the best - which is just like, “He's great at pattern, he's great at raising intensities”, and they gave him this really intense patter song which is (patters), “How many women, a lot, how many women.” And it’s just like insanity, falling over –
ANDREW: It’s very good. It makes you wish that this was -
JESS: More about him?
ANDREW: More about him. Because honestly, I was trying to remember during the party segments where Burrs was, and I think Burrs shows up once?
JESS: He’s not involved in the party part of it. He's not –
ANDREW: Yeah, he's not there.
JESS: Whereas in the other one, he's a big vaudeville performer. He is equally involved in this as Queenie. It is his house. Whereas here, he's just looks like put-upon-husband-trying-to-stop-Queenie-from-drinking.
ANDREW: Yeah, it's like he's not really there. And he doesn't interact with the other guests meaningfully. Outside of Gold and Goldberg, who kind of he interacts with. A little bit.
JESS: His mental break feels sporadic, out of nowhere, and unearned.
JESS: No matter how great Mandy Patinkin is as an actor - and believe me, he is one of the greats - This just doesn't land for me.
ANDREW: It has the same big moment that Lippa’s has, but without the narrative structure to back it up.
JESS: Well, the thing is he just shows up in blackface and –
ANDREW: He puts on his makeup, which is a big moment -
JESS: Well, he puts on bits of it, then it cuts to black, and then we see him full minstrel show with a gun. And that scene is as over as quickly as it started.
ANDREW: Yeah. He pretends to be some of the guests at the party, which doesn't make that much sense.
JESS: He just sings like the same bit of the song and all that.
ANDREW: Yeah. And then it's just him. And him and Black get into a fight and he dies.
JESS: It's not even a fight. It's like Black stands up to him, they both hold a gun, it goes off, and Burrs falls.
JESS: Queenie is a spectator in that scene.
ANDREW: Yes. And then it’s just kind of over. Like, nothing really else happens after that. So, very, very bad ending comparatively to the other. And I think it – Really, this show kind of takes off when all the guests show up and it just kind of dies when they leave.
JESS: Yeah, I think so. All right, we're running long. So, let's wrap this up. Andrew. -What is your overall thoughts on The Wild Parties and your cheese ratings?
ANDREW: Oh boy.
JESS: This has gotta be a hard one. And you got to pick which one you prefer, like you have to justify that one.
ANDREW: Okay. I think both shows are decent but not really great. I don't think there's either show that I would be outspokenly suggesting anyone go see. I think both of them are just kind of okay. And I don't know if that's the source material - Maybe the source material is not good enough to really allow for either show to be great, so – yeah. I don't know. They're both fine. I think I prefer the LaChiusa one, mainly for the music and the cast of characters. But it’s not by much. It's not like a, “This is way better than the other one.” I think they're both just fine. I don't know what to give it. I’ll give it one of those cheese sticks that's like a two-cheese spiral. Have you ever seen those?
ANDREW: Yeah, where it's like you have two different cheeses and neither one of them is great because it's from a cheese stick, but you know, whatever.
JESS: And is that your review of both of them? Your cheese rating for both of them?
JESS: That's actually a brilliant idea. Bree, what is your cheese rating for our discussion of The Wild Parties?
BRIANNA: I don't want to see either of them is what I will say after hearing you guys talk about it. I like to avoid things that are triggering.
BRIANNA: But honestly, I'm going to make up my own cheese today. And I'm going to give this a LaCheesa - it sounded better in my head. LaCheesa.
ANDREW: LaCheesa? Just cus his name is similar to cheese?
BRIANNA: LaChiusa. LaChiusa. What is his name? LaCheesa.
JESS: LaChiusa. We’ve said LaChiusa so much tonight. This is right after our First Daughter Suite too, so we're real sick of saying LaChiusa wrong.
BRIANNA: LaChiusa. LaCheeusia. LaCheesa.
ANDREW: I hate him. Michael John LaCheesa, you can leave me alone. I hate you. I can't pronounce your name.
BRIANNA: But that is the cheese rating I am giving it tonight. It is LaCheesa.
JESS: I love it.
JESS: I have great respect for both of these shows in very different ways. I really like the book and the actual direction and character work done in the LaChiusa’s. I think that one is very, very, very well written in every way except for the songs, where I feel like the songs kind of stop the story. Whereas Lippa’s, I feel like they're great uses of telling the story and entertaining you while doing so. And I feel like all the arcs are more satisfyingly paid off there, despite it being a little bit more toothless and a little less artsy. I love all the risk LaChiusa takes in his version, but I appreciate how much emotional payoff and stakes and just basic story structure there is in Lippa’s. So that leaves me in a really weird place where I'm going to choose my cheese rating - and I'm actually pretty proud of this. I think I came up with a really good way to describe how I feel about the two Wild Parties. So I am giving Andrew Lippa’s a party cheese platter – like, a cheaply made one full of cheeses that I like, though. It's like a really really cheap cheese party platter - cus wild party - And all the cheeses are good but they're really badly made and not in the best of quality. Whereas LaChiusa’s is this really fancy cheese party assortment, but it's full of cheeses I don't I'm particularly like, but are produced way better at a higher quality.
BRIANNA: Well now I just feel like my cheese rating was dumb.
ANDREW: Well, I'm not gonna say anything, but you know.
JESS: I mean – Andrew, you literally just said a swirl of cheese. A cheese stick.
ANDREW: Well, yeah, but I –
BRIANNA: But I didn’t say a real cheese.
ANDREW: Yeah, but I was saying it because cheese sticks are kind of not that great and it's two different cheeses because it's two different versions of the same thing.
JESS: I'm pretty proud of mine. I had to think about mine. And I think it came together pretty okay.
ANDREW: You know what? That's great, man.
BRIANNA: That's good for you.
JESS: Well, fuck you. Give me credit for that. I was really happy with that.
ANDREW: The keeper of the cheese will give you credit. But I'm not the keeper of the cheese.
JESS: Juliet, you better tell me – You actually better message me and tell me, “Wow, that was a really great cheese rating, I can tell you put effort into that.”
BRIANNA: Say Brianna’s was better.
JESS: Don’t do it. Don’t you do it.
BRIANNA: Say it – “LaCheesa is way better than two cheese plates.”
ANDREW: It's the leaning tower of LaCheesa.
JESS: Shut up. All right, we're done, we're done. Thank you guys for watching.
JESS: Alright guys, is there anything else you have left to say?
ANDREW: Yeah. If you want to watch either of these shows, good luck.
JESS: All right, we'll see you guys next time on Musicals with Cheese.