Hedonism and Hipsters in the Jazz Age

Actor’s Cabaret of Eugene gets dark and boozy with The Wild Party

Anthony Krall as Burrs with the Cast of ACE’s WILD PARTY
Anthony Krall as Burrs with the Cast of ACE’s WILD PARTY

The year is 1928, the last gasp of the good times before the crash of the Great Depression. Fringe is flying, bathtub gin is flowing and Queenie and her man Burrs are in a bad romance.

Based on the scandalous book-length 1928 poem by Joseph Moncure March, Andrew Lippa’s 2000 musical (not to be confused with Michael LaChiusa’s musical of the same name, which coincidentally premiered during the same theatrical season) The Wild Party tells the story of come-hither chorine Queenie and acerbic vaudevillian Burrs’ final all-night party, which she concocts as a plan for revenge after he assaults her.

Queenie hopes to humiliate Burrs publicly, and soon their cramped apartment is overrun with an eccentric parade of narcissists and thugs ready to bear witness to the sordid pair’s unraveling.

Prohibition-era booze gets the party started, sex keeps it simmering and, just when everyone begins fading in the wee hours — voila! — cocktail rings filled with cocaine offer the perfect pick-me-up. (Needless to say, the show isn’t for everyone; viewer discretion advised.)

Alexis Myles as Queenie demonstrates a powerful range, at home in a host of styles from pop-inspired ballads to jazzy riffs. Anthony Krall as Burrs is equally strong musically, and has a coiled, edgy presence throughout.

Two guests at the party — the playboy Black and the floozy-with-a-heart-of-gold Kate — round out the leads, with Eric Blanchard’s honey tenor coaxing Queenie to quit her abuser, and Jenny Parks, who packs a wallop, scatting confidently through gospel and torch songs, all in the throes of unrequited love for Burrs.

Lippa’s score teases out the early jazz and vaudeville calling cards that made Cabaret and Chicago before it so infectious. But unlike those evergreens, Lippa’s effort feels a bit tenuous and affected, as his dizzying array of contemporary musical styles competes for focus with the story’s emotional core.

The cast, however, rises to the occasion, selling the Sodom and Gomorrah of the corrupted Jazz Age from the moment the lights go up. Director-choreographer Colleen Darnall Dietz finds moments for everyone to shine.

Beth Milton’s raunchy Madeline offers the biggest crowd-pleaser, with her “Old Fashioned Love Story.” Likewise, Caitlin Christopher as Mae dances a vignette in the second act meant to express, wordlessly, the thorny relationship between Queenie and Burrs. Christopher’s dancing is the finest we’ve seen on the ACE stage.

Costumes and sets by Joe Zingo are full of flair and detail, evoking the age and all its excess.

The Wild Party continues through April 11 at Actor’s Cabaret of Eugene; $16-$42.95, 683-4368.