Musicals don’t get much wilder, nor university productions much finer than the USC School Of Dramatic Arts’ sensational staging of Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party, concluding its sold-out five-performance run this afternoon at USC’s intimate McClintock Theatre.

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

On the guest list are in-your-face lesbian Madeline True (Julianna Keller), pro boxer Eddie (Jack Tavcar) and his boop-boop-a-doop girlfriend Mae (Liz Buzbee), mute dancer Jackie (Tristan McIntyre), flamboyant “brothers” Oscar and Phil D’Armano (Austin Dalgleish and Aaron Jung), blowsy hooker Dolores (Lucy Grebin), underage nymphet Nadine (Caitlin Kilgore), bigshot theater producer Sam Himmelstein (Harrison Poe), and over half a dozen more.

Things start out wild and get even wilder when russet firecracker Kate (Annika Elwanger-Chavez) arrives with her latest flame, Black (Tyler Ellis), and when Black and Queenie hit it off, something not so pretty is about to hit the fan.

Madeline goes hunting for fresh young female flesh with whom to share “An Old-Fashioned Love Story,” the 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, partygoers revel to the dance craze called “The Juggernaut,” and the D’Armanos get the joint even more a-jumpin’ in “A Wild, Wild Party,” the last two numbers just a couple of the many that showcase Lili Fuller’s electrifying choreography.

Ovation Award-winning stage-and-screen star Vicki Lewis proves herself as inspired a director as she is a brilliant performer, giving this Wild Party a particularly gutsy, gritty staging while brightening the darkness and dirt inherent in Burrs and Queenie’s tempestuous love affair with a deft comedic touch honed in her five-season run on NBC’s NewsRadio.

Lewis makes ingenious use of a pair of long, narrow balconies on either side of scenic designer Mallory Gabbard’s apartment set to surround-sound, surround-sight effect, and equally imaginative use of her Wild Party ensemble, keeping them onstage virtually the entire show, alternating between the real and surreal while always ensuring that each remains entirely “in the moment.”

Leading lady Klasner gives Queenie a platinum blonde beauty to melt men’s hearts and excite their lower parts, and she’s got vocals and dramatic chops to match. Conacher’s Burrs is sexy, tormented, heartbreaking, and scary as all get-out and he sings as dynamically as he acts.

Elwanger-Chavez follows her Outstanding Lead Actress Scenie-winning Eva Peron in as stunningly different a role as roles get, belting out Kate songs in a voice of Broadway potential in a performance that stuns and sizzles in equal measure.

Finally, as he did in Company and Evita, Student Performer Of The Year Scenie-winner Ellis one again astonishes, Black’s GQ cover-ready handsomeness and sophistication contrasting with Conacher’s rough-and-raw Burrs and his voice as silky and seductive as tenors get.

Tavcar and Buzbee’s “Two Of A Kind” is downright delightful, Keller sells Madeleine’s “An Old-Fashioned Lesbian Love Story” like nobody’s business, Dalgeish and Jung are gender-fluid and fabulous as the Armanos, and McIntyre shows off athletic grace and flair in a “Jackie’s Last Dance” that combines ballet leaps with Martha Graham modernism.

Grebin’s daringly undedressed Dolores, Kilgore’s oh-so-naïve Nadine, and Poe’s apple-munching Sam are all three terrific, with Nicole Sevey’s Sally and Sean Soper’s Max completing the featured players list with panache.

Partygoers Marissa DuBois, Sabrina Fest, Camille Gray, Emma Kantor, Tiffany Maddahi, Patrick Olsen, associate choreographer Sophie Thomason, and Milan Williams are terrifically talented as well, though a female-to-male ratio of seven to one makes this a curiously imbalanced ensemble, and perhaps for this reason, the climactic “Come With Me” seems tame compared to the orgy of movement, dance, and lovemaking I’ve seen it staged as before, the single instance where this Wild Party could be a whole lot wilder.

Musical director Parmer Fuller elicits topnotch vocal solos and harmonies throughout while providing pitch-perfect, virtually non-stop accompaniment alongside fellow musicians Robert Allen, Cyrus Elia, Matt Jamele, and Gary Rautenberg, their instrumentals and amped vocals mixed expertly by sound designer Briana Billups.

Gabbard’s appropriately sleazy, meticulously appointed, skylight-topped set, Edina Hiser’s dazzling period costumes, and Abigail Light’s dramatic lighting design are all winners as is Joe Sofranko’s fight choreography. Taubert Nadalini is assistant director. Sophia Pesetti is stage manager.

Anyone wondering why USC’s School Of Dramatic Arts ranks #5 on’s list of Top 10 BFA Acting Programs In The Country For 2017-18 need look no further than The Wild Party. Forget the term “student production.” Theater like this is as good as it gets.

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Bing Theatre, University Of Southern California

–Steven Stanley
November 18, 2017
Photos: Craig Schwartz


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