Before a recent production of Outre Theatre Company’s “The Wild Party” at Mizner Park Cultural Arts Center, director Skye Whitcomb made a point to thank his nine-piece band and 15-member cast for a month’s worth of exhaustive rehearsals on a piece that is “on the level of difficulty of Sondheim,” adding that “the work that they’ve put in has been incredible.”
True, but unfortunately, three weekends into the show’s run, it’s still not good enough – still not quite ready for prime time when held against the high standards of South Florida professional theater. The ensemble members range from OK to exceptional but struggle to achieve choreographic unison; the result looks labored rather than fluid. The set design – a romantically ramshackle loft in Depression-era Manhattan – is attractive but feels too cramped for the ambitious, expansive activity playing out inside it. The sound design is problematic, with microphone pops and audio samples that sound so obviously canned that they distract from the action. The live band plays a great mix of jazz, pop, Broadway, gospel and burlesque music as required by composer Andrew Lippa, but often at volumes that drown out the singers’ mikes – a problem that immediately disengages us from the narrative.
But the main problem here is the three actors cast in the musical’s central love triangle. As the leggy vaudevillian showgirl Queenie, Sabrina Gore looks nothing like the object of desire she’s supposed to be, at least not in the unflattering, ill-fitting thrift-store lingerie she’s sadly saddled with throughout the entire show. As her abusive boyfriend Burr, a clown on vaudeville, Tom Anello is so painfully unfunny that his day job is inexplicable. And as Black, the straitlaced gentleman who falls under Queenie’s apparent spell, Mark Brown-Rodriguez plays his role so carefully, and with such theatrical calculation, that he never fully succumbs to the emotions required of him. His character barely registers against the ensemble, and his moments of intimacy with Queenie have a somnambulistic sluggishness. These three people couldn’t have less chemistry than if it was the first day they met.
To be fair, it must be said that for its debut production, Outre Theatre Company has selected a pretty weak, superficial and vacuous piece whose interminably long first act and inconsistently engaging songs would be also be a tough sell off-Broadway, where it opened to mixed reviews in 2000. The plot, adapted from a 1928 narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March, makes little sense any way you slice it. Queenie throws the hedonistic party in the loft in order to … what, exactly? To embarrass Burr? To make him see the light of day and to fall in love with her again? To find another mate? Burr mingles with someone else at the party too, a lurid cokehead named Kate (Christina Groom, whose songs occasionally raise the show’s flat-lining pulse a little bit), though in the case of both Kate and Black, it’s hard to fathom why either of them would be attracted to the damaged train wrecks hosting the party.
There are a couple of moments in Outre’s “The Wild Party” that not only lift the struggling production from its morass but work as excellent stand-alone theatrical showcases. As a lanky pugilist and his adorable, vertically challenged paramour, Mickey Jaiven and Courtney Poston deliver an adorable rendition of “Two of a Kind,” a cute, throwback showtune. And as Madelaine, a saucy lesbian party guest, Sharyn Peoples brings the house down with “An Old Fashioned Love Story,” delivering a provocative and funny lust song that suggests the polished, soaring professional production this could have been in its entirety.
I feel quite bad writing most of these words, as I’d love to support a hardworking group of people and a brand-new theater company. But I must call a spade a spade. Outre bit off more than its cast and crew can chew here, but bumps in the road are common for any startup company. From this point, there’s nowhere to go but up.
“The Wild Party” runs through Sunday, Dec. 9 at Mizner Park Cultural Arts Center, 201 Plaza Real, Boca Raton. Tickets are $35 adults, $25 seniors and $20 students. Call 954-300-2149 or visit outretheatrecompany.com