The Other Palace, previously St James Theatre, marks its relaunch with The Wild Party, a hedonistic and stylish musical based on a racy 1928 poem by Joseph Moncure March. The theatre’s new owner, a certain Andrew Lloyd-Webber, is presenting the venue as a space where writers and producers can try out new work.
First staged in New York 17 years ago with a short-lived run, the show follows the exploits of a hotchpotch of low-rent Vaudeville performers as they leave their inhibitions at the door of a party hosted by stage star Queenie and her menacing husband Burrs. Friends, enemies and strangers get up close and personal as their stories, and bodies, intertwine as the gin and cocaine-fuelled night gets increasingly raucous.
The first half of the show works through an awful lot of exposition as each of the characters in the ensemble cast set up their individual stories, ranging from a fading stage siren to a pair of plucky theatre producers. We are introduced to the characters in such quick succession that only a few get a real chance to breathe.
Once we’re past the lengthy set-up, we then enjoy the fall out in the relentless second half as the characters drink to excess, act on impulse and relationships are forged and decimated over the course of the night.
The cast imbues the show with a frenetic energy. West End stalwart Frances Ruffelle slinks through proceedings as Queenie with a sensual confidence and is ably matched by Victoria Hamilton-Barritt as her charismatic ‘frenemy’. John Owen-Jones also puts in an intense turn as Queenie’s volatile partner.
The cast’s energy is matched by the fantastic direction and choreography from Drew McOnie which is tight, slick and full of innovative flourishes. The cast often resembles a moving puzzle, constantly shifting into intricate formations.
Unfortunately, the score doesn’t live up to the direction and performances. The jazz-heavy songs don’t have a memorable melody between them and fail to showcase the cast’s talents. There are a couple of notable moments, but all too often the songs blur into one. The book is similarly weak with clunky dialogue.
Webber’s intentions in bringing new and little-known musicals to the London stage should be applauded, but The Wild Party is an early miss-step in what could be a very interesting journey for The Other Palace.
Cast: Frances Ruffelle, John Owen-Jones, Donna McKechnie, Simon Thomas, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, Dex Lee, Ako Mitchell, Lizzy Connolly, Tiffany Graves, Melanie Bright, Sebastien Torkia, Steven Serlin, Genesis Lynea, Gloria Obianyo, Bronte Barbe Book: George Wolfe, Michael John LaChiusa Music: Michael John LaChiusa Lyrics: Michael John LaChiusa Director: Drew McOnie Choreographer: Drew McOnie
Set: Soutra Gilmour Lighting: Richard Howell Sound: Tony Gayle Duration: 140 mins Theatre: The Other Palace Dates: 13th February – 1st April 2017