Dramatically dark and daringly sexual, Andrew Lippa’s Wild Party, the latest from Cal State Fullerton, showcases not just its multitalented ensemble headed by a phenomenal Hannah Clair as blonde bombshell Queenie. CSUF’s Wild Party is direction, choreography, and design at their SoCal pro-level best.

As in the 1928 epic poem by Joseph Moncure March that Lippa’s musical its name, Wild Party has platinum stunner Queenie persuading her abusive bear of a lover Burrs (Cody Bianchi) to throw what she hopes will be the wildest party in all New York.

On the guest list are pro boxer Eddie (Kyle Kayvaun Pazdel) and his pintsized girlfriend Mae (Megan Hill), in-your-face lesbian Madeline True (Monique Chelsy Burias Magpayo), mute dancer Jackie (Colby Hamann), incest-is-best “brothers” Oscar and Phil D’Armano (Timothy H. Lee and Jeff Garrido), blowsy hooker Dolores (Scout Lepure), underage nymphet Nadine (Corinn Szostkiewicz), loudmouthed theater producer Sam Himmelstein (Joe Stein), and over half a dozen more.

Things start out wild and get even wilder when russet firecracker Kate (Samantha Wojtaszek) arrives with her latest flame, Black (Christopher Mosley), and when Black and Queenie hit it off, something not so pretty is about to hit the fan.

CSUF’s thrust-stage James D. Young Theatre proves an ideal setting for the surreal musical noir that director Jeremy Lewis has imagined, placing the audience smack dab in the long-abandoned “room where it happened,” dark coverall-garbed ensemble members surrounding the circular bed where Queenie lies in silky-white splendor before launching into the first of choreographer William F. Lett’s electrifying dance sequences.

Before long, party plans have been made, guests have begun to arrive, and Queenie has exhorted each and every one of them to “Raise The Roof.”

Leggy redheaded wildcat Kate and enigmatic new man in town Black soon add fire and mystery to the mix, Madeline goes hunting for fresh young female flesh with whom to share “An Old-Fashioned Love Story,” and the physically mismatched Eddie and Mae proclaim rather improbably that they are “Two Of A Kind” in yet another of book-and-song-writer Lippa’s instantly contagious tunes.

Meanwhile, partygoers revel to the dance craze called “The Juggernaut,” the D’Armanos get the joint even more a-jumpin’ in “A Wild, Wild Party,” and Letts’ choreography gives his triple-threat ensemble the dance workout of their lives, one that includes more erotic, athletic pole dancing in a single show than I’ve seen in ten years of reviewing Southern California theater.

And lest you presume that all wildness will be of a boy-girl variety, rarely if ever has a cast of characters displayed as much sexual fluidity as Queenie’s coterie, nor has any college musical in memory had as many of its cast stripped down to their skivvies, the aptly titled “Come With Me” serving up a veritable orgy of movement, dance, and vertiginous aerial lovemaking.

That’s not to say that director Lewis leaves storytelling by the wayside, intimate scenes between Queenie and Burrs and Kate and Black unfolding powerfully in a steadily mounting dance to the death.

Lead roles showcase a trio of promising musical theater majors, Bianchi giving Burrs a creepy intensity, Wojtaszek’s sizzling Kate combining darkness and ditz, and Mosley’s Black seducing everyone within earshot with a baritone to rival R&B’s best.

Still, this is Clair’s show all the way, the CSUF senior taking her Into The Woods’ Red Ridinghood to bad-girl extremes while acing Queenie’s vocal and acting challenges with a velvety vibrato belt and a potent blend of bravado and pain.

Among supporting cast members, Magpayo’s unrestrained joie de lesbianisme makes “An Old-Fashioned Love Story” every bit the showstopper it is intended to be, Pazdel and Hill’s “Two Of A Kind” provides delightful comedic relief and their aerial prowess earns deserved oohs and aahs, Lee and Garrido’s “A Wild Wild Party” showcases the sexy duo’s song-and-dance gifts, and Hamann gives us an exquisite balletic “Jackie’s Last Dance.”

Seann Altman (Reno), Borboa, Ashley Gates (Fantasia), Kiana Hamzehi, Willie Huggins IV (Kegs), Lepore, Matthew Ollson (Sheldon), Stein, Robyn Stephenson (Ellie), Szostkiewicz, Erin Tierney (Rose Himmelstein), and Jacob Wayne (Neighbor) rival the Southland’s top triple-threats in some of the most challenging song-and-dance sequences in town.

The same can be said for student production designers John Favreau (lighting), Chris Schmidt (sets), Leland Stephens (makeup and hair), and Kaylynn Sutton (costumes), who give CSUF’s Wild Party its stunningly dark and edgy look, and sound designer Dani Rodriguez, who makes musical director Mitchell Hanlon and Wild Party’s nine-piece band* sound even more sensational.

Michael Polak is fight coordinator. Maggie Williams is stage manager. Rachel Rea is assistant director and Jennifer Maggi is assistant choreographer.

With major regional theaters continuing to opt either for safe old standbys or recent Broadway smashes, it’s up to universities like CSUF to take chances with lesser known fare.

That’s why you won’t likely be seeing a big-stage professional production of Andrew Lippa’s Wild Party anytime soon, and with CSUF students giving the pros a run for their money, this is one wild, wild party you won’t want to miss.

*Jeff Askew, Michael Bautista, James Beall, Tristram Duncan, Hanlon, Nathan King, Sean Mehaffy, Joseph Quintana, Nate Wilson

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James D. Young Theatre, California State University, Fullerton Department of Theatre & Dance, 800 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton.

–Steven Stanley
April 23, 2017
Photos: Jordan Kubat


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