‘Party’ like it’s 1929!


Malibu Repertory’s latest production is nonstop raunchy fun.

By Michael Aushenker / Special to The Malibu Times

“Skin…sin…fun…How about a wild party tonight?”

So goes the opening salvo of Malibu Stage Company’s high-energy production of “The Wild Party,” a 2000 musical based on Joseph Moncure March’s controversial 1928 poem that asks its characters-and audience members-to flout the Prohibition and ditch all inhibitions.

“The Wild Party” is a very physical musical, with actors working up a song-and-dance tsunami and characters emerging from the aisles or sharing a scene offstage.

The showgirl Queenie and the minstrel actor Burrs, a couple of aging vaudeville wash-ups, throw a party; one last hurrah before the Great Depression descends. Black, white, Jewish, gay-everyone’s invited to this party, and the results are comical, chaotic and even poignant.

“We should feel free to love and lust whomever and whenever we want,” Jackie opines.

And that’s pretty much what follows.

“Never rush your liquor…or love,” the worldly Queenie advises one partier, Nadine, a Pollyanna from Poughkeepsie who arrives with a dream: “I want to be in vaudeville! I want to be blond!”

Despite her jaded nature, Queenie, who “used to be trapped in a roomful of shadow and not enough light,” does find love, in messy fashion, amid the madness.

There are no false notes in this well-cast “Party.” Krista Sutton plays Queenie to the hilt while Casey Zeman, as Burrs, was born to perform on the stage. Zeman’s acting shines and his terrific singing voice carries all the way out to Pacific Coast Highway.

Charleene Closshey (Kate), Susan Kohler (Dolores) and Pam Duke-Van Ierland (Madeline) have their moments. Danny DeLloyd, as the piano-playing Phil, and Wallace DeMarria, as Oscar, provide solid laughs, as does A.J. Meijer (filling in for Lenny Goldsmith) and Richard Johnson as Gold and Goldberg, producers with “the movin’ uptown blues.” Speaking of comic relief, Bonnie Frank either has the easiest or the hardest role as Sally, a morphine addict who literally stumbles through the play.

Brent Moon, as the coked-out Jackie, and Zack DiLiberto, as the dapper ladies’ man, Black, carry their parts confidently.

Danni Katz is excellent as the ingenue Nadine. Demure and giggly with a Betty Boop face, Katz is a ball of fire onstage.

Once more, the charismatic Oscar Best commands a towering stage presence. As the former boxer Eddie, Best finds tonic here after performing in last month’s intense, literary “A Soldier’s Play,” although once again, race relations are an undercurrent with his character, a Jack Johnson stand-in. Eddie, at once a celebrity and a second-class citizen in his country, is married to a white woman (and Nadine’s sister), Mae, played by Leslie Beauvais.

Written by Michael John LaChiusa, “Wild Party” has an excellent songbook. Tunes play merry and raunchy at the musical’s start, but eventually becoming revelatory. These eccentric characters, we discover, are wounded animals, exposing their secrets and expressing their blues in song. Any vulgarity in “Wild Party” is tempered with humor.

Director Julia Holland has done a formidable job keeping this “Party” moving in high gear. The one-act show is one rolling, rollicking party train with visual narratives going on in every corner of the stage. The seven pairs of characters (plus one lush) are colorful and constantly interlocking. While the solo numbers do soar, the 15-member cast really flex their muscle when they perform ensemble on such tunes as the boisterous second number: “Don’t give me no water, I don’t know what that is … Don’t give me no root beer, cuz I need more than foam.”

Deborah LaGorce-Kramer and Shon LeBlanc’s costumes capture the epoch, while Diane Hertz’s straightforward set consists of an attractive period apartment, replete with phonograph player and Murphy bed. A live five-piece band performs from an elevated glass balcony. An old-fashioned cue-card easel announces each act in true vaudevillian fashion.

Johnson, also Malibu Stage Company’s artistic director, made a brave, bold choice following up “Soldier’s Play” with this material. The move has paid off. Part burlesque show, part Jacques Tati-evoking pantomime, “The Wild Party” is big, bawdy, cartoony, gin-soaked fun.

”The Wild Party” runs at the Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Highway, through Dec. 5. on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. More information and tickets ($35) can be obtained at 310.589.1998 or online at brownpapertickets.com